Nyabang Juol Chan fled her home two years ago to escape the violent civil war in South Sudan, seeking sanctuary in a refugee camp in nearby Ethiopia.
Two months ago, she returned to the town of Akobo with her four children, hoping to rebuild her life in the wake of a new peace agreement.
“I live here because I work in the market for my children to survive, selling tea for my children to get some stew, or fish or meat,” says Nyabang Juol Chan. “It is the life that I live here. It is better than it was in the camp.”
The town is beginning to bustle with life again with the return of about 12,000 refugees and internally displaced families. The establishment of a new United Nations peacekeeping base – the only one in opposition-held territory – is helping build confidence by providing a protective presence. The UN and humanitarian agencies are also supporting internally displaced people who want to make the journey home from a UN protection camp in Bor.
“I don’t think it is a coincidence that the 250 people that we flew by helicopter here to Akobo have now attracted others to come into the region because they believe and think that it is safe,” says the Head of the UN Mission, David Shearer, during a visit to the area. “I think our presence has given a greater degree of confidence. We have also seen humanitarian organizations here triple in number and breadth of what they are doing. I’m sure that is because of our presence here as well.”
As well as providing immediate relief for those in need, the UN and humanitarian agencies are looking for ways to provide people with opportunities to support themselves, by giving them tools to grow crops and fish in the nearby river or to develop small businesses.
The Special Representative of the Secretary-General met with local authorities to discuss the humanitarian and security situation. They agreed that, while there has been a reduction in political violence, the community is facing a fresh threat with a sudden surge in intercommunal violence, including the killing of civilians, cattle raiding and child abduction.
“In Akobo, in terms of security, it is very quiet and normal,” says Akobo East Commissioner, Jamus Yuot Dak. “However, our youth in the area are being attacked by neighbouring counties and we need this violence to stop.”
The intercommunal violence is worrying those who have returned, including Nyabang Juol Chan, who wonders if she has made a mistake by coming home.
“When the agreement was signed, we thought that there would be peace in South Sudan. But the problem is that our people are being ambushed on the road, being attacked and their properties looted. People are afraid,” she says. “I wonder if it is better for us to go back to the camp because if I try to move to another area near here, people might come and attack us. I hope there is peace soon.”
UNMISS is now looking to boost the number of peacekeepers in the area and to provide more support to reconciliation efforts in the hope of ending the cycle of ethnically-motivated revenge attacks so the community can finally rebuild their lives and live in peace.