“Bring peace so I can go home;” those are the words of 48 year old Hajat Karama who was forced to flee her home in the village of Busari in June last year due to insecurity and fear.
“There was fighting between government soldiers and the opposition and many people were killed including children.”
Hajat Karama’s house was looted and her family lost everything it owned. She fled with her husband and six children to the nearest town, Wau, 30 kilometeres away in search of a safe place to stay.
Now she is sheltering in a protection of civilian site, which is adjacent to the compound of the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS).
She and her family are amongst almost 29,000 people living in the tightly-packed camp who have been forced to flee their homes because of intermittent fighting.
“I feel safe here, but my family wants to go home. We need peace so I can go back to my land,” she says.
The inside of the site is patrolled by UN police officers, while the perimeter is secured by UN peacekeepers, or Blue Helmets as they are also commonly known. The internally displaced persons (IDPs) living there receive support from a range of different UN agencies and non-governmental organizations. Schools are due to open soon to give the camp’s many children the education they need and deserve.
“The UN is very helpful. Police officers escort women out of the camp so we can collect firewood, our only source of income,” says Hajat Karama.
All told there are more than 41,000 IDPs living in Wau. Some feel confident enough to return home during daylight hours if they are in the town. Others, who live further away, say it is imperative that they can plant crops ahead of the start of the rainy season, in April or May. Without a harvest they will be dependent on aid.
Meanwhile, insecurity in other parts of the region is driving yet more families to seek sanctuary in Wau.
Speaking at a meeting with David Shearer, the newly arrived head of the UN mission, the Governor of Wau State, Andrea Mayat Acho said; “We agree with UNMISS, it is better for displaced people to return home, when it is safe, when there is peace.”
On his first field trip outside the capital Juba, David Shearer, who is also the Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General in South Sudan, said that UNMISS can support the country’s peace process, but that “ultimately peace and stability is something that the South Sudanese need to create.”
“The possibility of peace is there,” he added, “but it must include all South Sudanese people of all ethnic groups and across the country.”
The conflict in South Sudan is continuing with flashpoints of violence in different regions. A National Dialogue, launched by President Salva Kiir, aims to halt the violence by bringing people together in the interests of peace and reconciliation.
It is a process which David Shearer believes could be a “starting point for getting the peace agreement back on track,” and ultimately provide the conditions for displaced people to return home.