“I sent my sons away, because it is too dangerous for them here in Malakal.” Those are the words of mother of six, Salua Dohka. She is one of tens of thousands of people who fled their homes in the Upper Nile town of Malakal and its surroundings after fighting broke out between government and rebel forces in South Sudan in December 2013.
For the last three years Salua Dohka has been living in a UN protection of civilians site just outside Malakal town. Approximately 33,000 internally displaced persons have found shelter there, in a facility originally built for 18,000 people. Many, like Salua Dohka, used to live in the town, just a few miles away. They are mainly from the Shilluk and Nuer ethnic groups.
Salua Dohka, who is a Shilluk, is one of the lucky ones. She runs a small restaurant in the camp, charging 50 South Sudanese pounds (US$0.50) for a plate of beans, okra and squash.
“It is hard to make money, but I had enough savings to send my sons to Khartoum and Kosti.”
Despite often being “intimidated by soldiers” when she leaves the site to buy supplies, she keeps going out. She says she has no choice.
“As a woman, I have to take the risk, otherwise I have no livelihood.”
While women can leave the camp, men rarely take the risk, according to community leader Simon Pakwan Nyibong.
“We men do not go outside, because so many people disappeared. Sometimes they are killed, they are decapitated, we need to be protected by soldiers and not fear them.”
The UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) provides protection to those people who live in the site. Visiting Malakal for the first time, David Shearer, the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General in South Sudan and UNMISS chief, said the site provided only a temporary solution to the problem of displacement.
“Unless we have peace, unless these people are able to go back home, we will never see the end of these camps” he said. “Ultimately, we don’t want these camps to exist.”
The three main ethnic groups living in Upper Nile are the Dinka, Nuer and Shilluk communities.
“We can launch patrols outside the camp and begin to create the conditions to go back, but without forgiveness and reconciliation, it will not be safe for people to go home”, says Mr. Shearer.
The UN says it’s now concerned about an additional 20,000 people who have fled the town of Wau Shilluk, about eight miles downstream of the river Nile from Malakal.
On Thursday, a UN patrol attempted to reach the town but was turned back by government troops.