There is a sea of white tents as far as the eye can see.
The makeshift structures next to the United Nations base in Juba are home to thousands of families displaced by the war that has plagued South Sudan for more than five years.
The UN opened its gates to provide sanctuary to these people as they fled the violence in fear for their lives, creating special Protection of Civilians sites surrounded by peacekeepers tasked with keeping them safe.
Many lives have been saved as a result, but these camps are not an ideal place to raise a family.
“Protection of Civilians sites are a last resort. They are not a good long-term solution,” says the UNMISS Deputy Police Commissioner, Mutasem Aljadid Almajali. “They are certainly not the best place for children to grow up if we want them to reach their full potential. There is no doubt that families would prefer to be living in their own homes and communities.”
The Deputy Police Commissioner was speaking at a special cultural event in the Juba protection site. Thousands of displaced families got together with UN personnel to celebrate the peace agreement signed last year, and to make a joint commitment to work together to implement it.
“We know that progress to implement the peace agreement has been slow. The peace agreement is not perfect. No peace agreement ever is. But it is the one that we have in front of us today and we are not going to get another chance at this,” says Mutasem Aljadid Almajali.
“The cost of failure is unthinkable. So, the responsibility lies with all of us to ensure that we move forward together to make the content of this agreement a reality.”
Many displaced families are feeling more confident about moving home as security improves, although there is still sporadic violence in the south of the country. The number of people in UN protection sites has dropped from 205,000 to 193,000 in just a few months. The decision to leave is voluntary, though, and must be made only when people have the trust and confidence to go home.
“As the demand to return increases, we need to ensure that people have the services and support they need within their communities – schools, healthcare, access to clean water, the ability to grow and harvest crops and to support themselves,” says the Deputy Police Commissioner. “UNMISS is working closely with donor countries and humanitarian partners to provide support packages to enable people to return.”
There is still a long journey ahead for many of these people. But the hope is that, one day soon, they will no longer need to live in a protection site to feel safe. Instead, they’ll be celebrating their return home.Distributed by APO Group on behalf of United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS).
A peace-promoting cultural event in a Juba Protection of Civilians site attracted thousands of participants and spectators