Welcome to the United Nations

UN camp residents in South Sudan “feel safer” after weapons searches

UN camp residents in South Sudan “feel safer” after weapons searches

It is 6.30 in the morning and as the sun rises some 250 UN police officers and support staff prepare to enter a camp for displaced people adjacent to the UN base in Juba, the capital of South Sudan.

Around 39,000 people live in the camp or protection of civilians site, known as POC 3, after fleeing the ongoing violence which has affected the country for the last three and a half years. Many of the inhabitants are opposed to the government.

The camp provides the safety and security its residents were unable to find at home, however weapons are alleged to have been smuggled into the camp which can have a destabilizing effect.

Cynthia Anderson is an officer from Ghana who is serving in the UN Police force (UNPOL) as part of the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS). She is leading five police officers from Nepal and Rwanda, one of around 20 teams involved in the surprise search operation.

“We are looking in shelters for weapons and ammunition, ID cards, military uniforms as well as home-brewed alcohol, all of which are prohibited,” she said. “We do this to ensure the civilian nature of the camp and to keep people safe.”

The twenty teams move between the tightly-packed shelters covered in white plastic sheeting, engaging the residents in conversation and apologizing for the early morning disruption.

Their presence is generally welcome, according to the community Chairperson of the POC3 camp, Bang Lul Guer. “This search operation is a good thing because it will improve the life of the community; it makes people feel safer,” Mr Guer said, adding that “there are elements who can disturb residents by bringing in weapons.”

POC 3 is one of seven camps established by UNMISS to provide refuge to civilians who fled their homes after conflict broke out in December 2013. Currently around 219,000 people live in these camps which are adjacent to UN bases and surrounded by protective fences guarded by UN military and police officers.

The residents are allowed to leave the camp and with that comes the danger that some may enter with prohibited items.

The camps are a key element of UNMISS’s mandate to provide a protective environment for civilians, while the Mission works with the government to create the conditions for people to return to their homes.

Back at POC 3, the three-hour search operation is almost over and an assessment is being made of the confiscated items. They include machetes, knives, uniforms, as well as a locked safe whose contents are unknown. Significantly, neither firearms nor ammunition were recovered.

Joakim Bergstroem is the UNPOL Ground Commander for the operation. “The searches can act as a deterrent so we are pleased that weapons were not found. Our operation helps to build confidence in the POC site, but also it shows our government counterparts that we take our responsibilities seriously, that we are not taking sides.”