By PHILLIP MBUGO
Hundreds of people sheltering from violence at Bangasu camp in the Western Equatorian region of South Sudan have received humanitarian relief for the first time since they fled their homes in June.
A peacekeeping patrol serving with the United Nations Mission in South Sudan provided safe passage for the delivery of aid by humanitarian agencies to more than 800 households at two camps, who received cooking utensils, buckets and tarpaulins to provide much-needed shelter from the heavy rains.
The journey to these camps involves the convoy navigating waterlogged roads damaged by heavy rain and the war that has ravaged South Sudan for almost four years.
The convoy passed by villages abandoned by residents who fled after coming under attack earlier this year. No one knows exactly how many people died in the raids but many of the homes have been looted or burnt to the ground.
Those sheltering at Bangasu camp say both sides involved in the ongoing conflict are responsible for their predicament.
“It is difficult because as the incident happened the government was patrolling these places searching for the rebels and the rebels were also active here moving through the villages,” said Bangasu camp chief, Moses Ruzino.
The patrol was also able to reach Rimenze camp further to the north where hundreds of people have sought sanctuary in a makeshift camp next to the Catholic Church.
Despite the presence of the church, the families here still suffer from regular threats, harassment, beatings and looting by armed groups.
“Of course we are scared because there is no protection, you know, anyone can just come and enter the camp, as has happened several times back, that the rebels can come in the camp beginning to beat people and to loot from people,” said Moses Ruzino. “That is why we are putting our request to the UN come here to protect the civilians here.”
The peacekeeping mission has two purposes. Firstly, to provide a protective presence in the area, even if it is temporary, and, secondly, to facilitate the delivery of aid by humanitarian agencies who have been struggling to safely reach the displaced civilians.
Life is difficult in these camps without access to clean drinking water, food, or adequate shelter.
“It is really very difficult for us to survive in this place because even when we run, all our food items were looted, and all our food items are now spoiled. We are just staying, waiting, to see who can help us by providing us a little food so we can help our children and women,” said Bangasu camp chief, James Atoroba.
Bangasu camp resident, Atonita Daniel, is particularly grateful for the assistance. Her husband was killed during violent clashes in the area in 2015. Since then, she has been raising her nine children on her own. The simple gift of a plastic sheet will make a huge difference in protecting them from the heavy rain.
“I have experienced hardship for the first time in my life with my nine children whose father was killed on his way to sell charcoal in the town and left me alone. The children and I are telling those who are fighting to stop senseless war and I also urge UN to bring peace to South Sudan at any cost. We are tired,” she said.
The people in these camps want to go home to grow their crops, raise their children and live a peaceful and prosperous life. However, it is simply not safe enough to return. They say there are armed groups in the bush who continue to loot the deserted homes and military forces often follow them, harassing and beating them, in an attempt to find out where armed opposition groups are located.
“My message to the government of South Sudan and also the international community is that they have to bring peace so that we can go back to our own places so that our children can go to school. We need peace,” said Moses Ruzino in Rimenze.
That simple plea echoed by those back down the long road to Bangusa.
“We don’t like to stay just the way we are, squeezing ourselves here in the camp. We need protection because we want to go back to our local area,” said James Atoroba. “We don’t like war. We want all the gunshots to stop in our area. We do not want to see any rebels moving with their guns anywhere or looting people’s property. We need peace.”
Peace so that the people of Bangusa and Rimenze can live their lives safely, with dignity, and hope for a brighter future.
Published on UNMISS on September 5, 2017 (unmiss.unmissions.org/humanitarian-aid-reaches-desperate-internally-displaced-people-bangasu).