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Gov’t, partners restoring hope to returnees

By Atimaku Joan

The government of Eastern Equatoria State partners with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to work in the direction of establishing resilience and livelihood number of the spontaneous returnees in the country.

The state has so far received quite a number of returnees who have returned willingly since the signing of the Revitalized Peace Agreement in 2018 totaling up to over one hundred thousand who have been officially registered with refugee cards out of the total number of five hundred thousand estimated by the state government.

This is because most of the returnees were coming back while living their refugee cards behind in their various camps with relatives.

The two partners have launched a field office over the weekend in Torit with the aim of boosting their effort in providing protection and support hence serving as a hub for UNHCR’s inter-agency support to building peace, development and solutions with the people and government of South Sudan.

The establishment of the office is a response and honor to the request of the Eastern Equatoria government based on the approach of the decisions to help those choosing to return back to the country and to improve or establish the returnees.

The inauguration of the new office was signified by the state Governor Mag. Gen Louis Lobong, UNHCR Special Envoy Ambassador Mohammed Affey to the Horn of Africa, UNHCR Representative Arafat Jamal, the Commissioner for Refugees Affairs Lt. Gen. John Bol Akot and the Rehabilitation Commissioner Augustine Okuma.

Challenges face by the returnees

According to Gen. Louis Lobong the Governor of Eastern Equatoria, there are quite a number of challenges affecting the refugees returning back with one of it being the presence of cattle in particularly Magwi county where most of the returnees are expected.

“One thing that is scaring the returning refugees is the presence of cattle in Magwi area where most of the returnees are expected,” said Lobong.

He stated that in about two days they have received a threatening report about a big number of cattle crossing from the western side of the river around Yei river area and Kajo-keji to the eastern side of the river which is in Eastern Equatoria.

He urged both the national and the state government together with cattle keepers to get to table the matter so the returnees can come back to occupy their original homes where they can cultivate and harvest produces from the place being occupied by the cattle.

Assistances 

The Governor has revealed that there has been complaints from the voluntary returnees that when they leave the country to take refuge in another country, people always raise more concern than when they are returning back.

This is especially because most of them are questioning who was going to take care of them as their homes have been destroyed and their way of livelihood have also been disrupted.

“People have been complaining, the returnees that when they come, nobody takes care of them,” said the Louis Lobong.

Louis Lobong urged the humanitarians to intervene with of hand tools and seeds for the returnees as they are used to cultivating their own food rather than waiting for food ratios form World Food Program and other UN partners.

He said that the government has a part to play in providing peace and security but there is no food and shelter to provide the returnees.

Hunger faced by the host communities

As the country was hit by insecurity way back in 2016, most of the citizens were forced to flee to neighboring countries like Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia and Sudan, people’s livelihood in most parts of South Sudan has been disrupted.

Hence the focus of the citizens being interfered from working to provide themselves to depending on Humanitarian assistance in settlement refugee camps in foreign countries or in Protection of Civilian sites POCs.

This has led to hunger faced by the host communities expecting the returning refugees back to Eastern Equatoria state or through Eastern Equatoria to the country as being the gate way of the country to three neighbouring countries such as Kenya, Ethiopia and Uganda.

And therefore, the host community is most likely to face the same fate with the returnees due to hunger and lack of food which means they will be able to host their people back but won’t be in a full position of feeding them.

“This people need to be assisted because where they were, their homes have been destroyed and also last year there was poor harvest in the state so the people who have remained are also facing the same problem of hunger and they have nothing much to offer the returnees,” stressed the Governor.

Lack of hand facilities and tools.

The Eastern Equatoria state Governor together with most of the Returnees have raised a complain that the people living or belonging to the Eastern Equatoria are self-reliant and used to feeding themselves from what they cultivate from their farms.

They practice subsistence farming which they normally used nearly all their produces raised to maintain themselves and their families but they lack hand facilities/ tools to get back on truck and practice their farming.

Education problem

This has become a problem to returning children in some parts of the country.

Samuel Onene a primary three pupil who was born in one of the camps in Uganda revealed that Agoro Primary school is the only school in their county and he regrates coming to the country because the school remains in primary four and teachers are not constant with lessons.

“It ends in P4 not P7, we have teachers but sometimes they don’t come, I feel like going back to Uganda because we wait on our teachers sometimes and we go back home without learning,” complained Onene.

Other challenges include lack of money, shelter and many more.

UNHCR Special Envoy Ambassador Muhammed Affey said that there is a reason as to why people are returning back to the country and that is because they have hope for a possible peace.

“People are returning back to South Sudan, there is a reason why people are returning back home if Eastern Equatoria and all the state were full of violence and chaos, people would not come back,” said Affey.

He mentioned that it is high time for the international communities to meaningfully partner with South Sudan. 

However, William Ochira a 32 years old man and a father to three explained how excited he was for returning back.

“I came last year because things were not easy with me, getting money was not easy for me there in the camp and a lot of things, like if you want to plant things you have to rent the place and then where will I get that money? So I decided to come back home because I heard that peace has returned and actually when I came back home I was really welcomed by those who have remained here and they really helped me a lot, as today you can see because I came back I didn’t take time I got a job with this company and now I am really very happy in my country,” said Ochira.

The Commissioner for Refugees Affairs in the Republic of South Sudan Lt. Gen. John Bol Akot applauded the state government, the UNHCR and the development partners for the long terms of support to the national government and the people in establishing the returnees in the country.

He urged the government to put more effort in making the returning refugees in the country comfortable than from the camps where they have been in order for them to not go back.

“A large developing efforts must be geared towards ensuring that those that are returning home will be able to remain in order to avoid letting them to take the risk of leaving home again due to lack of adequate basic services,” said Bol.

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