In Bentiu, peacekeepers partner with the government to protect tens of thousands who continue to shelter at the internally displaced persons camp against conflict and climate shocks. Photo by Peter Bateman/UNMISS.
UNITY – Viewed from the air, Bentiu, the capital of South Sudan’s Unity state, seems surrounded by large bodies of water. On the ground, more than two years of excessive rainfall have taken its toll on communities living here. The worst sufferers of these unprecedented climate shocks: A fluctuating population of some 100,000 – 160,000 people who live in temporary shelters at the Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camp here. To add to their burdens, the situation has been exacerbated by the influx of returnees fleeing the Sudan crisis, creating fierce competition for scarce resources.There is a silver lining to this cloud though and it comes from the strong partnership between the state government and the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) who take an integrated approach to protect the displaced and address their emergency concerns.Bentiu Gai, a tailor who has recently escaped from armed conflict in Khartoum, is a new resident at the IDP camp, who usually sits outside the camp’s bustling main market. “I didn’t know what to expect when I came here, but to be honest I haven’t seen any crime at all. Peacekeepers roll past in their vehicles all day - it makes me feel safe,” he comments. Patrols in the camp are collaborative efforts, involving the South Sudan National Police Service (SSNPS), United Nations Police (UNPOL) officers as well as military peacekeepers."Our diverse patrol strategies are designed for specific needs – from demonstrating our presence at conflict hotspots and mitigating gender-based violence to fostering trust between UNMISS, local police, and communities," Yvette Van der Nest, a South African peacekeeper and UNPOL Patrol team leader in Bentiu, elaborates. Coordinated patrols spearheaded by UNPOL through their individual police officers and formed police units vigilantly navigate through the camp, while also extending their reach to areas such as Rubkona and Bentiu town, especially focusing on sensitive zones.Then there are peacekeepers who run confidence building patrols, meeting communities, listening to their concerns, and reassuring them that the UN Peacekeeping mission is their partner for peace. These committed peacekeepers are more than mere situational monitors; they're ambassadors of trust. From school courtyards to buzzing marketplaces, they open channels of dialogue and understanding.Finally, Blue Helmets conduct regular high visibility patrols. These emphasize observational vigilance on the camp's outskirts, ensuring the larger vicinity remains stable and peacekeepers can respond promptly to security-related anomalies. Their main function is to deter violence.Jordanian UNPOL officer, Raed Zaid Aref Alfalah, adds a personal touch: "Being on patrol nearly every day is a privilege. Being able to speak Arabic and English is a bonus for me because I can engage with almost everybody. My favourite time, though, is bonding with the children in the camp in the football fields adjacent to where they are sheltering,” says Raed with a smile. During a recent patrol, the UNMISS team encountered Nyasaland Nguen, a young, displaced woman enjoying her tea at a local café. "It's comforting to be in a place where the threat of violence feels like a distant memory. We still struggle for food, work, and water but I feel safe here," she remarked poignantly.While much more needs to be done to ensure displaced people finally feel safe enough to return to their original homes, in the expansive embrace of Bentiu's IDP camp, these varied patrolling initiatives help give them hope that, eventually, they will be able to rebuild their lives.