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UNHCR Delegation Visits South Sudan Amid More Aid Worker Attacks

A woman from Murle ethnic group stands at her burnt tea shop in a market in Gumuruk, South Sudan, on June 10, 2021. The village was attacked by an armed youth group.
A woman from Murle ethnic group stands at her burnt tea shop in a market in Gumuruk, South Sudan, on June 10, 2021. The village was attacked by an armed youth group.

The head of a high-level U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR) delegation visiting a refugee camp in Maban, South Sudan, this week said threats and attacks against aid workers are continuing in parts of the country despite some government intervention.

Arafat Jamal, UNHCR’s country representative, said Thursday the delegation recently went to Maban to see how UNHCR and other agencies are working on the ground and to determine how aid work is sustaining the livelihoods of locals during and after the conflict.

In 2019, up to 2,000 young people forcefully entered the UNHCR compound and those of 14 other aid agencies in Maban, which led to looting, arson, and the destruction of several vehicles and structures.

The 2019 attacks forced aid agencies to suspend services in the area except for life-saving activities. Nearly 400 aid workers were evacuated from the Maban area.

Even though the government has tried to address the threats and attacks on aid workers, the problem persists, according to Jamal.

“The government is aware,” Jamal told South Sudan in Focus. “I know that they are doing their best to help us — we are also working with UNMISS [United Nations Mission in South Sudan], the peacekeepers, on this — but it is a problem, and it is not over yet, and I would like to [implore the government to] please enable us to do the work that we need to do.”

Eastern Equatoria state

Humanitarians have faced similar attacks in Eastern Equatoria state. An aid worker with the International Rescue Committee (IRC) was killed Tuesday night in Unity State’s Panyijar County. The local worker was on his way home from a video hall he owned in Nyal when he was attacked, said County Commissioner Colonel William Gatjiek Mabor.

“The late [aid worker] had a place for football, so he advised the other one to pay for the game — actually they are relatives. After [the alleged assailant] was told to go home and bring money, he went and picked up his Kalashnikov [rifle], and then when [the aid worker] wanted to go home, he came and attacked him,” Col. Mabor told South Sudan in Focus.

Mabor said the alleged assailant is known, and county authorities expect to arrest him soon, although they still had not done so as of late Friday.

Carol Sekyewe, IRC’s country director for South Sudan, said the repeated attacks on aid workers derail the delivery of humanitarian assistance to those who need it most.

“It makes it very difficult for us to work when humanitarian workers are attacked and killed,” Sekywew told South Sudan in Focus. “Initial analysis does not show [the assailant] was directly against IRC, but still, [the aid worker] was our colleague and we all feel the pain of his loss. He was doing a lot for nutrition [for] a lot of people in Nyal.”

Panyijar County

Last month, IRC aid worker Dr. Louis Edward Saleh was found dead in Ganyiel Payam of Panyijar County, where he was serving in the only medical clinic in the area.

A forensic report released by the government said Saleh bled to death from several cuts on his neck and other stab wounds. Two guards at the clinic were arrested.

The IRC pulled out of the area following the murder. As a result, villagers are suffering, said Mabor.

“They are dying every day and that is why I want NGOs to ask for their protection, not because they don’t have the right to pull out. They have rights, but I need them to ask for their protection and then serve the innocent people,” Mabor told VOA. “Panyijar people are not wild animals, they are human beings.”

Lakes state

Earlier this month, two workers with the Italian charity Doctors with Africa were killed when their convoy was ambushed in a village about 64 kilometers from Rumbek in Lakes state.

Arafat said the South Sudan government officials should address the problem of attacks on aid workers once and for all.

“In South Sudan in general there is a problem of security of humanitarian workers, and I have discussed this at many levels with the government,” Jamal told VOA. “We are here to work together with the government and people of South Sudan, but it is essential for us to also be protected. You cannot attack the people who are here to protect.”

Maban County Commissioner Peter Alberto said he took steps to beef up security and end the violence against aid workers after he was appointed to the post several months ago.

“It was my first thing to do,” Alberto told South Sudan in Focus. “I formed a joint operation, which is stationed at a bridge at the river bisecting Maban into two, and I had to order the officers on the roads — nobody has to carry a gun.”

Alberto said he is trying to restore law and order, and that he has instructed local authorities to hold criminal suspects accountable for their actions.