When fierce fighting broke out in Bor in 2013, Diu Billiu Majok and his family ran for their lives to the United Nations base there. The peacekeeping mission opened its gates to provide sanctuary to Diu and thousands of others forced to flee their homes during this chaotic outbreak of civil war in South Sudan.
Since then, Diu and four other relatives have remained at what ultimately became a Protection of Civilians (PoC) site, while the rest of his children are either in his hometown, Fangak, or Uganda.
Seven years later, following a ceasefire and peace deal, political violence has significantly reduced across the world’s newest country, with hundreds of thousands of people returning to their homes.
Displaced families in the PoC camps are also moving freely to towns to attend school, to shop, to work and to stay overnight with friends. “I do go to the town often. I have colleagues who I work with and other friends because, unlike the situation in 2013, I can now move freely in Bor without any problems,” says Majok.
Considering the overall situation, the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) and humanitarian partners assessed the five PoC sites and found there has been no external threat to the camps since 2017.
After a year of careful planning, the mission has withdrawn military and police from the Bor site and re-designated it as a more conventional camp for Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) under the sovereign control of the South Sudan Government, like many other such camps across the country. This move has been taken in consultation with national and state authorities.
The Jonglei Governor signed a Memorandum of Understanding committing to providing protection and ensuring none of the 1900 residents remaining are forced to leave the site.
A government delegation also visited the site this week to reassure residents about the change in status.
“People fought here many times, so they want to know what the difference will be between this peace and the previous efforts to bring peace,” says Ambassador Bior Ajang Duot, the Government’s representative. “That was their concern. They are suspicious. They thought maybe it would not be true – the peace. But they have accepted it and there is no problem.”
Isodore Boutche, Acting Head of UNMISS’ Field Office in Bor, says he believes that the visit of the delegation from the capital Juba demonstrates the Government’s full support for the transition process.
““The Government reassured the residents that they are ready to take over from UNMISS when it comes to safety and security of the people in the POC site,” said Mr. Boutche. “They will be in the front seat but UNMISS will be in the back seat to continue supporting them.”
The Bor site is the first of five such locations under UN protection to make this transition. The withdrawal of UNMISS peacekeepers from static duties at the camp means they can be redeployed to hotspots where civilians’ lives are in immediate danger.
“The only operational change is the removal of static guards from this place. We will continue to engage with the displaced families. We have increased the number of mobile of patrols that come here so we still have a presence,” says UNMISS Acting Sector East Commander, Colonel Errington Kojo Commey.
The UN peacekeeping mission will retain the ability to respond to any potential security issues at the camps with its Quick Reaction Forces and is working closely with local police to build their capacity.
“We will keep supporting the local police to protect and serve civilians; this is our mandate here in the IDP camp as well as all other camps in South Sudan. Most importantly, we are here for all civilians whenever and wherever they need us to help keep the peace,” says Dorothy Nyambe, the UNMISS coordinator for the site.
While some residents are anxious about the change, no-one will be forced to leave, and humanitarian services will continue.
For Dui Majok, it’s the beginning of a process that he hopes will ultimately enable him to reunite his scattered family.
“For me, I’m ready to go when the re-deployment of the police is completed. I will go out immediately. I’d like that - to go out and be with my family again.”