Thousands Who Fled Violence, Voluntarily Returning To Yei River State

Thousands of South Sudanese refugees who fled Yei River State into Uganda and DR Congo are making a voluntary return back home after the recent signed revitalized peace agreement.

Thousands Who Fled Violence, Voluntarily Returning To Yei River State
An IDP camp in Wau [File photo]

By Daniel Friday Martin

YEI, 16 November 2018 [Gurtong]-The returning host communities said they are in dire need of clean drinking water, education, health facilities, housing infrastructure in order to re-start their lives.

During the civil war that erupted in July 2016, Yei became the frontline of conflict in which tens of thousands fled their homes for safety to refugee camps and hundreds of thousands were displaced or stranded in Yei due to the intense fighting between the SPLA and SPLA-IO forces.

The communities around Yei faced tremendous insecurity, gruesome human rights violations and acute shortages of food and fuel, with many international NGOs forced to cease local operations due to safety concerns.

Speaking to Gurtong in an interview, Medina Rose a returnee who arrived Yei town from Uganda one week ago said “I am very happy that I finally reached home after a long struggle and suffering in the camp due to this conflict. I pray that our leaders will now stand for peace so that the suffering of many other people is brought to an end” she said.

Medina said she lost all her belongings as a result of the conflict but, said she has forgiven the looters as she is ready to re-start a new life.

“What we are going through with other people now is insufficient food, high market prices, in ability to access to better health services, education and clean drinking water points. I am sorry to say that all our facilities have been broken down and the government is not able to fix them right” she said.

Another Internally displaced person, Morris Amule who returned from Otogo County into Yei River County said most of the social facilities in the village have been destroyed by forces during the conflict.

“If you go to my village, you will see that bridges have been broken, our bore holes which were drilled some years back have been broken down, schools, churches, and primary health centers. All roofing materials including iron sheets have been removed and our village is just empty” said Amule.

Addressing a news conference on Tuesday, Elias Taban, the Arch Bishop of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of South Sudan issued a broad-based appeal to support peace, reconciliation and sustainable access to basic social services for the returning population in Yei and other parts of South Sudan to stabilize and reconcile communities ravaged by conflict.

“As a church together with partners we are committed to ending the suffering of those displaced and in refugee camps, in 2017, we had a grassroots peace movement with the support of His Voice Global, we mediated the negotiation of a peace accord for Yei River State, which called for permanent ceasefire, an assembly area for armed rebels to ensure their security, a planned national dialogue and the securing and opening of roads to and out of Yei.”

“Over fifteen months, over 600 opposition soldiers have been integrated into SPLA forces and provided uniforms, training and basic services: food, household supplies and essential medicine. In addition, EPC and His Voice Global held talks in Gogrial, Western Lakes, Maridi, Torit, Terekeka, Jubek and Kapoeta, which resulted in more than 3,000 civilians in Gogrial laying down their arms”the statement reads in parts.

Arbishop Elias Taban said much as the church focuses on peace, reconciliation and forgiveness, he sees real suffering in the eyes of South Sudanese when it comes to access to basic services such as health, education, clean drinking water which he thinks are fundamental human rights and dividends to promoting peace and unity among South Sudanese communities.

“For almost thirty years, the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of South Sudan (EPC) has been dedicated to peace, stability, health and prosperity in South Sudan, establishing a primary health clinic, clean water operation, primary school, orphanage and women’s empowerment ministry in Yei”  it added.

Arch Bishop Elias Taban made a repeated call for all religious leaders and other actors to take a lead in promoting peace and restore confidence in the people.

“With displaced families starting to return to Yei and a peace agreement in place between the government and opposition, efforts now shift to reconciliation and strengthening ties at the local level.What we need now is for civil society, secular and religious organizations of all faiths, the South Sudanese diaspora and the broader international community to stand with this and to feel the hope that we feel and to believe that peace will prevail.” Said Elias Taban.

As the recent crisis descended and deepened in Yei, Bishop Elias made a commitment to serve all and ensure the protection and well-being of the civilian population. He looked to friends and partners who share his commitment to peace, health and prosperity in South Sudan to extend the reach, capacity and voice of the community beyond national borders and execute a comprehensive crisis response, including B.A.S.I.C. Ministries, His Voice Global, Impact AO Foundation and Water is Basic to health the people around Yei and beyond.

Steve Roese, president of Water is Basic USA who is on a visit to Yei River State said he is very happy that the revitalized peace agreement is yielding. He said he saw many people are moving in the streets of Yei, shops opening and local supplies are now available in the area.
He also said Water is Basic is working hard to provide clean drinking water to help the needy population in Yei River State and other parts of South Sudan.

“Over the past ten years, the EPC / Water is Basic partnership has provided clean drinking water to over 800 communities, reaching over 10% of the population of South Sudan. The EPC / Water is Basic operations team remained intact throughout the conflict and continues to provide critical maintenance services to the community”.

Steve also appealed to friends of South Sudan in the diaspora to continue mobilizing resources to help the people of South Sudan who are in dire need of basic social services.

“What we have discovered now is that peace is becoming real, roads are opening, shops opening and people are returning home and now we have discovered that the demand for clean water is needed now and yesterday we met a mother of seven children who left Rhino Camp because life in the camp was not comfortable and what I want to say to friends around the world is that peace is real in South Sudan, don’t give up, the people need food, seeds and clean drinking water now” said Steve.

Amber Curry Gracia, a senior official working for a USA based charity health organization-Impact AO who is also on a visit to Yei River State area said her organization has been supporting the people of Yei River State on essential medical supplies to help all classes of people in South Sudan.

“EPC Clinic has delivered essential and affordable primary health care to thousands living in Yei and surrounding areas. Dedicated to preventing illness and improving quality of life for all in the community, the clinic provides general medical and laboratory services to people of all tribes, faiths, political affiliations and socioeconomic circumstances.” Said Gracia.

During the crisis, EPC Clinic sustained operations as one of the only health facilities operating in the area, in partnership with Impact AO Foundation and through generous donations from US-based Direct Relief and Blessings International, EPC ensured that essential medicines remained available.

The commitment of EPC and its international partners remains strong; but more support is needed to re-establish households, address the physical and emotional health of returnees, stabilize the local economy and begin the hard work of reconciliation. The most intense need will persist through August 2019, including household supplies, food relief and medical relief according to Gracia.

Gracia said Impact AO said it has a consignment of drugs on transit from Entebbe to help the people of Yei. Gracia said women and children in Yei have been badly affected by the effects of the conflict in the State.

“We are convinced that people are returning home and right now we have another shipment of medicines in Entebbe to be quickly moved to Yei in a couple of days to save the needs of the communities. By us working together as one family because what pains the other affects the other” she concluded.  

While on a visit to Yei town about two weeks ago, South Sudan’s Vice President, James Wani Igga said the government and the opposition forces are committed to implementing peace agreement and restore stability in the whole country.

“I want to tell those doubting like Thomas that the peace agreement is real and I want to assure you that the government and the opposition forces will work hard to implement the peace agreement to prove those doubting like Thomas wrong” Igga told a crowd in Yei town.

Igga said the government is working hard in ensuring that favorable conditions are created all over so that IDPs and returnees return to their original areas of settlement so that partners together with the government can deliver basic social services to the suffering South Sudanese population across the country.

Over the last two weeks, senior military representatives both in the government and opposition security sector are embarking on meetings, to create confidence in the civil population as well as to operationalize the security arrangements matrix, implementation modalities, which calls for free access for humanitarian assistance, free movement and protection of civilians and their properties.



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