South Sudanese refugees, who initially sought shelter from conflict in 2013 by fleeing to their northern neighbour, Sudan, are now heading back to their home country, given escalating violence in Sudan’s capital, Khartoum.
These twice-displaced individuals urgently require humanitarian assistance and on 5 May 2023, a team of military, police, and civilian peacekeepers from the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), visited the South Sudan-Sudan border area, Panakuach, to assess their situation.
The team coordinated with Mongolian peacekeepers during their visit and spoke with the South Sudanese border police area commander and humanitarian workers.
According to the South Sudan’s Relief and Rehabilitation Commission (RRC), as of 4 May, some 1,198 returnees were recorded.
“We are doing everything we can to secure the populations returning from Sudan. In collaboration with officials from Rubkona county, we have allocated some land for them to temporarily settle, but they lack food and water. They need more assistance,”
said David Lung Tuorek, an official from the Relief and Rehabilitation Commission.
Rot Riak, a nearby town housing people displaced by climate change—their villages were destroyed by three consecutive years of flooding in Unity state—was identified as a host community for many recent returnees.
UNMISS met with community leaders and government officials in the town, who reported the arrival of approximately 292 returnees.
Walking around the area, the UNMISS patrol team noted shelter, food, and access to clean drinking water were pressing needs.
Despite their own meagre resources, the host community is lending a hand to these newcomers.
“All of us gathering here came from different areas in Khartoum, where the fighting was happening. Most of us fled war in South Sudan many years ago. We returned here in Rot Riak on May 27, and are overjoyed to be safe but we need more help. There is no food or clean drinking water. Host communities have been helping us with a small amount of money. We used it to buy a fish that all of us [292 returnees] shared,”
said Nyayian Gatdet, a returnee.
We can work, we can support ourselves if we get help, but you can’t do anything if your stomach is empty. With food and water, we can manage to support our families, Nhial Yaat, another returnee, added.
“There are no plastic sheets, food, or water. We need humanitarian support; if they give us some plastic sheets, we can build temporary shelters.”
For Captain Munkhbyar Ganileg, patrol leader of the Mongolian peacekeepers, protecting these new returnees is key, but more needs to be done.
“The government and UNMISS peacekeepers are keeping the area secure, but many will need humanitarian assistance. Right now, these are women and children, who have come here by foot, and more returnees will cross the border in the coming weeks and months. We will do everything we can to support them.”
The information gathered during the UNMISS visit will be used to coordinate a multidisciplinary response, in partnership with local authorities and humanitarians, to the situation, addressing urgent needs of both returnees and the host community.