17 January 2014

Update from South Sudan: SOS Malakal Safe amidst Disruption

1/17/2014: The crisis of politically and ethnically based violence in South Sudan, sparked by a clash between government troops loyal to President Salva Kiir and rebels supporting the ousted vice president Riek Machar, has left around 10,000 citizens dead and around 355,000 more displaced ( UN Refugee Agency). Waves of refugees have fled to Uganda and neighboring countries, but many are unable to leave their homes to escape the chaos that has engulfed the area.  

The SOS Children’s Village Malakal, home to 100 children, 40 adolescents and 30 staff members, has weathered the uprising in relative safety.  Paul Boyle, the psychosocial support coordinator at the SOS Regional Office in East Africa and coordinator of emergency response in South Sudan, has been in close communication with the village, working with the UN to monitor and mitigate the situation in Malakal.

On January 13th, Boyle’s team and CV Malakal management met with the United Nations Mission in the Republic of South Sudan (UNMISS) and UNICEF to discuss the possibility of evacuation to a recently established camp nearby. While space for the children was secured in the camp, evacuation was made nearly impossible by rebel movements. A rebel shooting inside the camp called its safety into question, and renewed fighting outside the Village on the morning of the planned evacuation convinced the Assistant Village Director of SOS CV Malakal and the staff that remaining within the Children’s Village was the best course for the safety of the children and the village.  

On January 18th, rebels entered the village and took the village vehicle, mobile phones, and money. The children’s houses were not searched and no injuries were incurred, thanks to courageous SOS co-workers who persuaded the rebels that the village was truly a children’s home.  

As humanitarian aid and relief measures floundered, emergency provisions were delivered to the village by the World Food Program (WFP) and UNICEF and there are plans to deliver more provisions via plane when air space opens.

Recent developments give hope that there is an end in sight, and that soon, delivering additional aid will be less challenging. Since the last report has been issued from the SOS Village Malakal, the government of South Sudan has reached an uneasy peace with the area’s rebel forces. A cease-fire was signed in Ethiopia on January 23rd, 2013. Despite this progress, it promises to be a long road to peace and rebuilding. Both the government and rebel sides are scrambling to claim remaining areas. Peace-keeping measures, however, are being implemented, and talks between the opposing groups will convene on Friday, February 7th 2014.

Regardless of what the upcoming days, weeks and months bring, SOS Children’s Villages will continue to work within South Sudan  to ensure that our children, mothers and co-workers remain as safe as possible amidst the violence.