Although President Salva Kiir told Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta on August 30, that there is already peace and stability in the country, those who left their homeland still fear returning, saying they are unsure whether the tentative peace will hold.
Gatjang, who is 22 years old, said he would not go home because of insecurity after fighting peaked in July. He appealed to the government to address the ongoing risk of violence: “The crisis has been going for too long,” he said.
The crisis has been going for too long.
James, 23, left South Sudan in 2011 and said he would not return home yet. Although he is safe in Kenya, he said he faced many other challenges as refugee. He urged South Sudanese leaders to put national interests above their own personal interests to restore genuine peace. “Now South Sudan is at war and most South Sudanese youth are not going to school, most are in refugee camps,” he said.
Many gathered on August 31, at an Amnesty International event focusing on mental health among South Sudanese, many of whom witnessed killing or sexual violence during the years of violent conflict. It was held in Nairobi, the capital of Kenya which hosts thousands of South Sudanese refugees.
The Amnesty International event focused on a report on South Sudan released in July entitled “Our hearts have gone dark”. It documented the mental health impact of the war and highlighted an urgent need for more mental health services.
Many have experienced the killing, the sexual violence, abductions, and looting.
Elizabeth Deng, a researcher with the rights group, said the event sought to help people deal with traumatic experiences they witnessed. “Many of the South Sudanese in Nairobi have left South Sudan recently and many have experienced the killing, the sexual violence, abductions, and looting that has taken place in South Sudan. They carry these experiences with them,” Deng said. “As refugees they face many challenges such as getting documentation, money to support themselves while their relatives die in South Sudan.”
Some aid organisations providing mental health services in Kenya also attended.
Before the outbreak of the conflict in late 2013, there were 114,885 refugees hosted by the neighbouring countries Uganda, Kenya, Sudan, and Ethiopia, the UN refugee agency said. However following the conflict the number has risen to 786,093.
For Gatjang, the event offered the opportunity to contribute his ideas towards resolving the country’s problems – an opportunity he says he hardly gets – as part of healing the trauma many in exile are going through. “It gives us an opportunity to input our ideas on the problems in South Sudan.”
Margret Mathiang a South Sudanese activist with the Jenubna Development Foundation, a civil society organisation, said many South Sudanese in exile are facing avoidable, but traumatic challenges ranging from a lack of access to schools, food and other basic necessities and she added that frustration is increasing.
We have seen people who have gone crazy because they expected that we have no lasting peace.
“We have seen people who have gone crazy because they expected that we have no lasting peace […]. I know of many elderly people who have developed health problems because of that and some of them have actually died of that,” Mathiang said. “We need lasting peace in our country and a good government.”
A regionally backed peace agreement signed in August 2015 fell apart in July when violence broke out in the capital Juba between President Kiir’s forces and those of former First Vice President, turned rebel chief Riek Machar – forcing many thousands more South Sudanese into exile and uncertainty.