(Vatican Radio) A cessation of hostilities appears to be holding in South Sudan following President Salva Kiir’s appeal after a resurgence of violence in the country’s capital of Juba.
Forces loyal to president Kiir and vice president Riek Machar resumed fighting last Friday on the eve of the country’s fifth year of independence.
Since the outbreak of violence more than 300 people, including UN peacekeepers, have been killed and thousands have been displaced within the capital, raising concerns that violence will spread throughout South Sudan.
Many fear that the country is on the brink of falling back into a civil war.
Georgia Gogarty spoke to Angela Wells, the communications officer for Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) Eastern Africa, who described the current circumstances in Juba and the terrible situations the South Sudanese people are finding themselves in.
Angela Wells has described the situation as “dire” with many fearing that the country is reverting back into conflict “despite the peace agreement signed by leaders just a few months ago”. Thousands have been internally displaced within Juba, and many aid agencies have chosen to evacuate following the bombardments of UN compounds.
People have been fleeing South Sudan since 2013, Wells explained. There are 2.4 million displaced persons, 1.7 million within the country and 700,000 fleeing to Uganda, Ethiopia and Kenya. Those who have fled since last Friday in particular were in Juba. They are civilians living in the capital, “normal people working in the city trying to make a normal life”, who have been caught in the crossfire of heavy artillery and bombardments.
3500 people are being housed in Catholic churches across the city. Concerns have been raised however over the sanitary conditions as many of these churches are not designed to cope with the number of people they are receiving. Civilians are running from one protection site to another, mainly schools and churches which “are perceived to be safer but in actual fact are not” Wells said. There is a sense of uncertainty, as Wells stressed, “we don’t know if people will start to flee outside of Juba of it this violence will escalate to other areas of the country”, where it will be harder to keep people safe.
Wells said the “mandatory thing that’s needed as soon as possible is protection” and the fact that UN centers provided to protect people have been attacked is “completely unacceptable”. She went on to explain that many of those arriving to protection centers are “very malnourished” and that “food provision, shelter and medical care” are the priorities. She explained that “no agency can ensure that those services will reach people “if humanitarian channels are being attacked. Therefore “all humanitarian services need to be protected amidst this conflict”.
For JRS a major need is education. She explained that many are “eager to learn despite being in a war”. For South Sudanese people “learning is the only thing they can take away that no one can take from them” and can subsequently grow from this conflict. She stressed that education must be prioritized amongst other emergency needs.
Pope Francis has said that “peace is a priority” for South Sudan. Despite peace seeming elusive at this moment according to Wells, she said that his words have huge “significance for everyone working with displaced persons and the South Sudanese themselves”. She said that the country’s leaders and international community need to prioritize peace in their hearts and structures of power. Wells said, “ultimately they have to give up their greed that is fueling this conflict” and “we need to see this in tangible actions not just words”.