“I was caught completely by surprise when armed attackers started shooting and burning our homes to the ground in my village,” reveals Victoria Miidie, a mother of seven. Victoria is from Tinakpuro, a village in the greater Tambura area of Western Equatoria, which is currently beleaguered with conflict. “I immediately ran to Tambura town and sheltered in the premises of the Catholic Church here because I heard that UNMISS is on the ground protecting civilians. Though conditions are tough here, with many families being displaced, I feel safer when I see UN peacekeepers patrolling.”
More than 30,000 people are currently sheltering in school and church premises as well as close to the UNMISS temporary operating base in Tambura. Their homes have been burnt to the ground, their crops ruined, and their livestock scattered or killed. Women, children and the elderly have been severely affected.
Food is scarce, as is shelter and healthcare, though the UN peacekeeping mission, local authorities and humanitarian partners are doing their best to help in any way possible.
“Our children are going hungry,” says Marcella Barangba, another displaced person sheltering with a newborn baby near the UNMISS base. “I beg our attackers to stop the violence. We need to be able to cultivate our farms and live in peace. They have even burnt all the health centers. How are we supposed to treat our children who are falling sick with stress and hunger?”
Christopher Murenga, Head of the UNMISS Field Office in Yambio, says that despite all efforts, the situation on the ground is dire. “We are working with the government and humanitarian partners to alleviate as much of the suffering as possible, but the scale of destruction is immense,” he avers.
“It is extremely heartbreaking to see people who were looking forward to the peace dividends promised by the signing of the Revitalized Peace Agreement and the roll out of the Revitalized Transitional Government of National Unity at the state level, having to flee for their lives,” he continues. “They wanted a future of hope and this politically instigated intercommunal violence has shattered that expectation,” he adds.
The number of displaced persons camps in Tambura alone has risen to four, following the outbreak of conflict a month ago and affected residents want to see a commitment from the government and the international community that this cycle of brutal violence will not be repeated.
“Too many bad things have happened to us in the past 10 years. Women and children have suffered especially,” states Lucia Alfred Bangbaru, who is also sheltering in Tambura after escaping from recent attacks on her village. “We want to know what our government and the international community is going to do for our children, who are the future of this country. We desperately need a durable peace.”
For now, the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has distributed non-food items to 300 displaced persons, the World Food Programme is providing food assistance, while other humanitarian partners are working with UNMISS to ensure some relief for the newly displaced.
For their part, UNMISS peacekeepers are intensively patrolling in and around Tambura, protecting those in need and reducing tensions.