The United Nations in South has closed the first ‘Protection for Civilians’ site that was set up in South Sudan at the height of the escalating violence in 2013.
The site, which was a place for refuge and safety set up next to a UN base in the country, has been successfully closed after the internally displaced families hosted here ‘expressed the desire and confidence to return to their homes’.
“It’s gratifying to finally see people feel safe enough to go home,” said the Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), David Shearer.
The UN has been working with humanitarian agencies to return families either to Melut town, their home villages, or another UN protection site.
“There is conflict across much of South Sudan where people fear for their lives. But in some areas, like Melut, we are able to help people out of the camps back to their communities,” Shearer added.
The world’s youngest country, South Sudan has spent much of its short life mired in conflict, riven by a political face-off between President Salva Kiir and his then former Vice-President Riek Machar that erupted into full-blown war late in 2013.
The site, next to the UN base in Melut in the Upper Nile region, had provided sanctuary to hundreds of families since the conflict broke out four years ago.
The protection of civilians is primarily the South Sudan government’s responsibility but, in many cases, people have fled from government security forces. UNMISS has provided sanctuary to almost 210,000 people displaced by the on-going conflict in South Sudan.
It now hopes the closure of this camp will allow troops to focus on patrols, making other areas safer and allowing more people to return home finally.
“We will look at every camp individually to see if the conditions allow people to return home voluntarily and safely. Where these conditions exist we will try to assist people back,” said David Shearer. “Camps are not a long term solution and certainly not the right place to bring up children or live with dignity.”
Meanwhile, the United Nations also welcomed the ‘safe return’ of six aid workers who were kidnapped by rebels in South Sudan earlier this week.
The aid workers from the French organisation Solidarites International had been kidnapped on Sunday while travelling on a road near the city of Raja, in the west of the country.
“All of them were released and they have landed safely in Wau,” another city in the west of the country, a United Nations official in Juba who spoke on condition of anonymity told Reuters.
Rebel spokesman Lam Paul Gabriel confirmed the development saying that the six humanitarian aid workers had been freed:
“All their belongings were given back to them including their vehicles.”
It was not clear why the rebels had taken the aid workers and their vehicles into custody.