JUBA — The United Nations refugee agency UNHCR said it is distributing life-saving items to more than 6,000 vulnerable families trapped by fighting in Yei River state over the last six months. Internally displaced persons (IDPs) say they welcome the relief aid but want to be allowed to safely return to their home villages so they can harvest the crops they planted. The food rations they are receiving are not enough to survive on.
UNHCR officials said more than 10,000 families were displaced from their homes in Yei County after fighting broke out between government forces and armed opposition groups aligned to former First Vice President Riek Machar.
U.N. agencies say humanitarian conditions deteriorated quickly because aid workers were not able to access the area due to rampant insecurity.
Aid is welcomed
Ana Roba and her seven children are some of the displaced villagers receiving food assistance from UNHCR. The Roba family was displaced two months ago from Day Star, an area about two kilometers from Yei town.
Roba and her children now stay with relatives near the Episcopal Church of Sudan and South Sudan offices in Yei.
Roba said she welcomes the food aid provided by UNHCR, but worries about others still hiding in the bush.
“I have a suggestion: If they are distributing these items, let’s receive them because they help other colleagues be happy. It’s not only you who received food that will be happy. They [also] need [to reach our] brothers and sisters, too. If everybody receives, I think there will be nothing bad. We don’t want it [to be] that others are sad when we are happy,” Roba said.
Food rotting in fields
Mawa Fredrick was displaced from Lopapa village near Yei along with nine members of his family. He said the food being provided to the IDPs is not enough. He said all he wants is access to his land so he can harvest the crops he has been growing.
“We have food which is rotting in the field whether being cassava, sweet potatoes, G-nuts and so on, but the difficulty is how to access it to bring it home. When this food has come, it has helped us,” Fredrick said.
Fredrick said South Sudan’s leaders should restore peace so he can return to his village where he can lead a normal life without the sound of guns.
“We need peace in our country so that we can also build our country, not always going to neighbors as if we are orphans depending on uncles to [bring] us up, like now our children are going to get education outside,” Fredrick said.
UNHCR is distributing blankets, sleeping mats, mosquito nets, soap and other items to IDPs.
Call for peace
Richard Ruati is UNHCR’s Assistant External Relations Officer for South Sudan. He is calling on the warring parties in Yei to cease hostilities and ensure a stable environment for humanitarian actors to reach vulnerable people in remote villages.
“We are all appealing to the government and the armed groups who are operating in some of the areas we are supposed to deliver services in, to give corridor to humanitarian actors and the displaced persons to move freely,” Ruati said.
Aid workers and local leaders say thousands of Yei residents have been forced to flee to neighboring Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo because of the rampant insecurity.
The U.N. also said at least 100,000 Yei residents have been stranded within the town, with no means of escape.