The United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) has opened new sites for about 28,000 internally displaced persons adjacent to its bases in three state capitals to improve living conditions of civilians who have been uprooted by the recent conflict, a senior UN official said in Juba today.
Speaking to the press today Derk Segaar, head of UN Resident's Coordinators Office Relief, Reintegration and Protection (RRP), said the new sites have been constructed in Juba, Malakal and Bor.
Overall, UNMISS is protecting more than 100,000 civilians on its bases throughout the country.
“When we first opened our gates, we expected it to be a temporary solution,” said Mr. Segaar. “The situation has become prolonged and we are looking for solutions to make it more bearable.”
“Still, in our view, it is a temporary solution that we hope to reverse when stability returns so that people can go home. It was also very much a measure of last resort that I don't think it is a good situation for anybody to be confined in these small spaces for a prolonged period of time,” he added.
The living conditions are better, though the sites are still “improvised, temporary and not a great place to live.” he said, noting that 11,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) had been moved from the mission’s base in Tomping, Juba, to a new protection site near the mission’s headquarters. The process to move the remaining 3,000 people in Tomping would start tomorrow, he added.
Another site had been completed at the mission’s base in the Jonglei State capital Bor, where only 3,000 people remained. In the Upper Nile State capital Malakal, 14,000 IDPs had moved to a new site the mission was expanding to accommodate the remaining 4,000 people.
But the situation is especially bad in the Unity State capital of Bentiu, where the area for the IDP camps was completely submerged following heavy rainfall earlier this week.
“In Bentiu, the situation is dire,” said Mr. Segaar. “The site is continuously flooded. We have worked with partners to provide drainage so that people can live in a more dignified way than they are doing.”
He added that partners were also working on a dry season plan to improve conditions for 50,000 IDPs seeking shelter at the UNMISS base in Bentiu. UN agencies will continue to drain water using pumps and excavators to alleviate the unacceptable living conditions facing most of the site's population.
“Outside the base, it is dry. Inside, it’s flooded, but people choose to remain here,” he said. “Clearly it’s a security issue.”
But the mission would not force out anyone seeking shelter on its bases, he assured. But at the same time, it is vital to encourage people in stable areas to return home or move to other places where they could feel safe.
Asked about foreign nationals seeking shelter at the mission’s bases, Mr. Segaar stressed that the mission’s role was “to protect civilians, not only protect South Sudanese citizens.”
“I meet with people at the protection sites daily and I don’t know a single person who is keen to stay in these conditions,” he said. “If individuals decide that they feel unsafe for any reason, the mission is committed to providing protection.”
South Sudan’s Government has been at war with rebel groups since 15 December, when a clash between troops loyal to President Salva Kiir and those loyal to former Vice-President Riek Machar snowballed into full-scale fighting.