Between December 2016 and September 2017, thousands of people were displaced by inter-communal fighting in Lakes and Warrap States. However, very little is known about the needs of the affected population. Following reports of widespread displacement in Warrap and Lakes States, REACH conducted a rapid assessment in Tonj Town to understand displacement patterns and access to services for newly arrived internally displaced person (IDP) communities. Between 9-10 November, 3 focus group discussions (FGDs) with IDPs totalling 27 participants, 2 site visits to IDP communities in villages, and 2 Key Informant (KI) interviews with humanitarian staff and local authorities were conducted.
Although all data was collected in Tonj Town, all respondents were asked broadly about conditions in rural and urban areas across the greater Tonj (Tonj East, North and South), Greater Rumbek (Rumbek Centre and East) and Cueibet Counties in Lakes and Warrap States. Findings should be considered as indicative only, and further verification of each site should occur where possible.
Population Movement and Displacement
FGD participants linked displacement patterns in Greater Tonj, Greater Rumbek and Cueibet to inter-communal conflict that began in 2008.
Initially, the conflict was localized, involving sporadic violence from seasonal cattle raiding and accompanying revenge killings that drew in only a few villages at a time. However, fighting intensified in mid to late 2016 into widespread, sustained violence that razed villages, destroyed livestock and displaced most of the rural population of Greater Tonj and Western Lakes States.
Displacement from Greater Tonj
Prior to 2016, displacement followed seasonal conflict patterns; people living in conflict-affected villages would flee to neighbouring villages or the county capitals of Romich (Tonj East), Warrap (Tonj North), and Tonj (Tonj South), which were considered to be safe.
They would return after violence receded. Over the years, many households settled permanently in towns, providing a support network for relatives displaced by subsequent cattle raids. However, fragmentation of armed groups into smaller and smaller units in 2016 caused the conflict to spread to most of Tonj East and Tonj North Counties, overwhelming the capacity of other villages to absorb IDPs and forcing most of the population to flee to Romich and Warrap Towns. Services in both towns were severely restricted, forcing many to later leave for Tonj Town in search of food and other services.
Though mostly removed from the conflict, parts of Tonj South County were drawn in by the violence in Lakes State when cattle raids from Cueibet County spilled over the Warrap State border into Manyangok Payam. Violence culminated in July 2017, when most of the payam’s population was displaced into Tonj and Manyangok Towns. As of November 2017, sporadic violence along arterial roads linking Manyangok and Tonj continues to displace people into Tonj Town.
Displacement from Western Lakes State
FGD participants reported that seasonal fighting has been common across Lakes State since the start of the conflict. Conflict patterns were similar to Warrap, though their scope and intensity were reportedly much greater. Most years, IDPs fled to large towns, such as Cueibet,
Rumbek and Akot, where they waited safely for a peace agreement to be negotiated before returning to their villages for the wet season.
However, respondents reported that after the current fighting began in December 2016, the usual negotiations did not occur, and no peace settlement was reached. Instead, conflict escalated in May 2017, as armed groups destroyed entire villages, food sources and livelihoods, ultimately displacing most of the rural population towards their respective county capitals. Unlike previous years, where towns acted as safe zones from which IDPs could wait out the conflict, revenge killings followed the IDPs, pushing many to seek alternative places to flee. Insecurity in Lakes State peaked in August when fighting broke out in Cueibet Town, after which civilians were evacuated from urban centres across Lakes State to Tonj Town