Accessibility links

South Sudan Displaced Mark Independence Day In Safety of UN Camps

  • Mugume Davis Rwakaringi

People fled violence in Juba in December and sought shelter inside U.N. staff compounds like this one in Juba, which rapidly became camps for the displaced.

People fled violence in Juba in December and sought shelter inside U.N. staff compounds like this one in Juba, which rapidly became camps for the displaced.

Members of one group of South Sudanese stayed away from Wednesday's independence day celebrations in Juba.

Some of the thousands of internally displaced persons (IDPs) who fled to U.N. compounds when fighting broke out in December say they have mixed feelings about marking the nation’s third birthday.

William Bol, 35, is one of them. When fighting broke out seven months ago, he ran for his life and found shelter at the U.N. Mission in South Sudan's (UNMISS) compound in Tongping. Since then, the compound has become an overcrowded camp for displaced persons, many of whom are still too frightened to go back to their homes in spite of the government's assurances that they face no danger if they do.

Even though Bol has been living on handouts from the U.N. and aid agencies since December, he said South Sudan’s independence is worth celebrating. The question for him is where and how to mark the occasion.

“We do not like to go outside because crisis is still going on there," Bol told South Sudan in Focus.

"We'll buy a soda and we'll celebrate July 9 in the UNMISS camp. It is a big day for us. It's for all people in South Sudan, not for just one person,” he said. He said he would have loved to celebrate with the rest of the country at events but he can't go beyond the camp’s barbed wire fences to see the marching bands and traditional dancers putting on a show in Juba's Independence.

Bol said, “When we go outside, people still want to kill us, there on the road.”

Important day

Another IDP, Ter James, said he would have celebrated his country's
independence no matter where he was.

"It is important for every South Sudanese to celebrate this wonderful day. Independence day does not need the government people to celebrate it," said James, who lost some of his relatives when fighting erupted in Juba in December.

James spent South Sudan's independence reflecting on his loss and trying to make sense of the continuing crisis. “I have to say this... the atrocities, the death, the massacre that happened here in Juba... we need accountability," he said.

James Dhiew, 38, refused to join in the festivities, either inside the camp or outside of its walls. “We are suffering here in the UNMISS camp. There is nothing worth celebrating this 9th of July," he said.

Reason to throw a party

In spite of the threat of famine and more than 1.5 millon homeless, there are those outside to camps who insisted there was good reason to celebrate.

Garang Madut is from Warrap state, a fregion which has remained largely peaceful during the seven months of fighting. He and others called on those sheltered inside the camps to come out in the streets and mark the country’s third birthday with them.

“I feel happy because we are now enjoying our independence... and I should be very happy when they are joining us to enjoy our independence day because they are our brothers and sisters,” he said.

This year, many IDPs remained in the safety of the U.N. camps. Next year, they and their compatriots hope the camps will no longer exist.