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In South Sudan, Protection of Civilians sites are transitioning into Internally Displaced Persons Camps

In this story series, UN Peacekeeping shows the impact of Action for Peacekeeping, which guides peace operations across 12 active missions.

Story by Samira Y. Salifu

“We are rebalancing our military peacekeepers to take a more nimble, robust, and proactive approach to the protection of civilians. We are deploying troops to conflict hotspots, setting up temporary bases, and intensifying patrols to deter conflict,” asserts Nicholas Haysom, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS).

In 2013, the UN Mission opened its gates to thousands of families fleeing conflict across South Sudan, providing them sanctuary in Protection of Civilians (POC) sites located in and around its bases all over the country.

By June 2020, the total number of civilians seeking safety in six UNMISS POC sites was over 180,000. This number included 29,000 in Juba, 112000, in Bentiu, 28,000 in Malakal, 1,900 in Bor, and nearly 10,000 in Wau.

The POC sites were set up to protect people in imminent physical danger and have done so for many different ethnicities, for many years. Today, however, political violence has significantly reduced across the country in the wake of a peace deal and the formation of a revitalized government of national unity.

As a result, a large number of the internally displaced have made the sites their home and continue to stay on for the services provided.

“I received a blanket and other items, but I find the kitchen utensils most useful,” said Teresea Deng Kuong, a resident of the Bentiu POC site. “If there was also a tea kettle and a big plate to serve meals, we would have everything we need in the kitchen.”

Teresea was referring to non-food items distributed by the International Organization for Migration, UN Refugee Agency and UNICEF to over 1,400 families sheltering at the UNMISS base in Bentiu, located in Unity state. At POC sites such as Juba, residents can send their children to primary schools located in the POC.

While many displaced people continue to return to their homes, those remaining in these sites move freely in and out of the camps.

Since 2020, the UN Mission has redesignated the sites in Juba, Wau, Bor and Bentiu into internally displaced persons (IDP) camps under the sovereign control of the government of South Sudan. The site in Malakal, however, will take time to transition due to its complex political and security situation.

In each of these locations, UNMISS continues to provide protection as needed, with military and police on-hand to closely monitor and rapidly respond to any physical threats that may emerge.

Withdrawing from these sites means troops occupied at the POC sites can be redeployed to hotspots where peoples’ lives are in immediate danger, like in Jonglei state where attacks on civilians are rife.

“They have abducted my three children and my younger sister. My husband was killed, and all the cattle were raided,” said Mary Gordon, a survivor of an intercommunal violence which occurred in conflict-ridden areas in Jonglei where UN Peacekeepers were deployed to quell tensions.

Ms. Gordon herself was kidnapped in Manyabol, located in the state, and made to walk for five days with her abductors, who finally released her upon reaching Anyidi in Bor County.

In transitioning POC sites into IDP camps, the UN Mission has emphasized that while it is hoped that the residents will voluntarily and safely return to their homes to live peaceful and prosperous lives, the newly named IDP camps will not be closed, people will not be forced to leave, and humanitarian services will also continue.

Strengthening the protection provided by peacekeeping operations is a key area of theAction for Peacekeeping agenda and its implementation strategy A4P+, which seeks to support tailored, context-specific peacekeeping approaches to protecting civilians, and implement protection of civilians mandates of peacekeeping missions, including through using all necessary means when required, in accordance with the UN Charter, mission mandates, and applicable international law.