NAIROBI - At 1 p.m. East African time Tuesday, around 100 Kenyan evacuees — mostly women and children — disembarked from a chartered flight at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in the capital Nairobi.
The Kenyans had been airlifted from Juba as part of the Kenyan government's efforts to rescue citizens caught in the latest flare-up in the South Sudan conflict.
Officials from Kenya's foreign affairs office were on hand to receive the returnees, who lamented for those left behind.
"There are still lots of people left at the airport, around 1,000,” according to one refugee.
“The men have been robbed of everything. They have left their bags and gone back on foot to the embassy," said another.
Monica Juma, the principal secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told reporters she was hopeful that a lasting solution would be found to the conflict in Africa's youngest country.
"We are pleased that there's a calm in Juba today, and that there's a commitment,” she said. “Both sides have said that they are ready to re-engage with implementation of the peace agreement. … We are calling on the international community to support the regional position because the crisis in South Sudan is not a regional crisis. It's a threat to international peace.”
The government began evacuating Kenyans last Thursday, and so far 857 have been safely brought home.
George Ochieng has been running an electrical business in Juba for the last nine years. The recent flare-up caught him off guard. He says he left five of his colleagues in South Sudan.
"I'm glad, but not that much, because our colleagues are still [there and] we will not sleep,” he said. “Yes, we have been struggling there, but if you know your employee or your brother is back there, you can't sleep."
Businesswoman Claire Barasa went to Juba a year ago. When the skirmishes began, she was rescued by South Sudanese forces who took her to the airport. Hers is a story of gratitude.
"As I was going to the house, I noticed people running. Then, within the nick of time, I heard gunshots and everyone had to lie down,” she said. “We have neighbors, South Sudanese, who are soldiers. They are the ones who helped us get to the airport. There are so many people who want to come home, but there are no planes. If it's your luck, you'll go. If it's not your luck, like right now, we've left so many people there. Home is always the best."
An unknown number of Kenyans are still stranded in South Sudan, but the government has stated that this was the last evacuation run.