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عربي

South Sudanese blocked from leaving the country

Esther Muwombi and Davis Mugume
South Sudanese in Juba report being blocked from leaving the country as they attempt to flee the recent outbreak of violence, amid fears tensions could flare up again.
14.07.2016  |  Kampala, Uganda
Displaced women in South Sudan’s capital Juba on July 12, 2016. (photo: The Niles | Samir Bol)
Displaced women in South Sudan’s capital Juba on July 12, 2016. (photo: The Niles | Samir Bol)

The problem is that they stop us from leaving and promise a ceasefire which they always break.

“Armed SPLA soldiers are stopping us from leaving,” said Achan Mary, who was turned back from the airport as she tried to catch a flight out of the country, frightened after days of violent clashes which rocked Juba and elsewhere until a ceasefire took hold on Monday, July 11. “The problem is that they stop us from leaving and promise a ceasefire which they always break. It is hard to trust them, they should let us go,” she added.

The Community Empowerment for Progress Organization (CEPO), an organisation that pushes for peace and development in South Sudan, tweeted on Wednesday: “Freedom of movement for South Sudanese is under challenge; South Sudanese are denied traveling out of the country following Juba’s 5 days violence.”

Malek Dwach said one soldier told him there was no need to leave South Sudan because the government is in control of the situation.

Meanwhile, the United Nations Refugee agency is calling on all armed troops to ensure the safe passage of people fleeing the fighting. Charles Yaxley, UNHCR spokesperson for Uganda said thousands are trapped on the South Sudan border as they try to cross to the neighbouring country.

According to the UNOCHA the fighting has displaced more than 36,000 people since Friday. Heavy fighting involving tanks and helicopters is estimated to have killed hundreds of people. At least 7,000 people have sought shelter at different U.N. bases in Juba.

But those fleeing face extreme danger en-route, Yaxley said. “On Juba to Nimule Road, the main road to Uganda, we understand that there are series of roadblocks and check points […]. They are preventing people from moving freely, other refugees travelling by bus have reported being robbed at gun point and having their possession stolen,” he said.

I and many others literally had to buy our way out.

A Ugandan living in South Sudan who was trapped during the violence told The Niles that corruption and violence were rife. “I saw many cars that had been shot at or burned,” he said. “Government forces have erected too many roadblocks along the way and are extorting money from those trying to leave Juba. Cellphones, money and all other valuables are being robbed. I and many others literally had to buy our way out.”

Given the risks, desperate people are crossing the borders through the bush and other illegal routes.

The UNHCR and other humanitarian agencies are providing food, shelter, water, hygiene and sanitation facilities for those who have managed to cross. Other South Sudanese have fled to neighbouring countries, mainly Kenya and Ethiopia.

Those South Sudanese fortunate enough to hold citizenship for other countries are being evacuated through their respective embassies, although priority is being given to their native citizens.

Refugee camps in northern Uganda are already congested and more refugees are expected to arrive. The Uganda Red Cross said 800 refugees had arrived by Monday this week adding to the 130,000 South Sudan refugees already seeking refuge in the northern Uganda district of Ajumani.

Efforts to get a comment from a government official were unsuccessful, but last week Suzan Kun Akec, who works for the Ministry of Interior told The Niles that troops had been deployed to block civilians fleeing the violence but didn’t explain why.

Alfred Khidogwa a political analyst draws comparisons with 2013 when the civil war broke out and South Sudanese weren’t allowed to leave. “I think the government wants to give the impression that the situation is not that bad,” he said.

Some South Sudanese who have lived in Uganda and speak the local languages have resorted telling evaluators at the Ugandan embassy that they are Ugandan but lost their documents while they fled the fighting.

Meanwhile, embassies have started to evacuate their nationals from South Sudan, including Americans, Germans, Swedes, Ugandans and Kenyans. Many of the South Sudan citizens are calm and are trying to spread peace messages across social media but the situation in the country remains tense and analysts and citizens alike fear a resurgence of the recent violence.

There are also reports that unknown armed groups are making occasional attacks on civilians traveling on the Juba-Nimule road. Florence Lawa, 27, an employee of Equatoria Holding Co. was shot dead while traveling along with three kids and two other adults along Juba-Nimule road.

Last week when the fighting began, people of various nationalities were stranded at the Nimule border after SPLA soldiers were deployed there to block people from leaving the country but a few days later the key border crossing was opened.

After days of fighting between forces loyal to President Salva Kiir and First Vice President Riek Machar, both leaders declared a ceasefire on July 11, which has so far been respected. However, people remain mistrustful of the politicians’ promises after more than seven ceasefires were broken during the civil war which started in December 2013.

 

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