On 15 December 2016, South Sudan’s brutal crisis entered its fourth year. Since a struggle between political rivals plunged South Sudan into a devastating conflict in 2013, an estimated 50,000 to 100,000 people have died* and more than 3 million have fled from their homes.
Year after year, millions have struggled to survive, exhausting coping mechanisms and dreaming of the day they can return home and reunite with their families. Of course, “home” is often an elusive term, as so many houses have been destroyed and looted over the life of the crisis.
Behind the struggles are stories of perseverance, hope and self-sacrifice. IDPs from the UN PoC sites in Bentiu, Malakal and Juba shared their experiences and told us what it means to live in these sites, where IOM works alongside humanitarian partners to provide lifesaving aid.
While faced with daily hardships, their stories are punctuated by hopes for a better future for the children of South Sudan.
Jacqueline, 20, braids her sister's hair at the PoC site in Juba, which grew rapidly in July 2016 following the outbreak of violence that engulfed the capital city for four days.
Until the resurgence of fighting in July, Jacqueline had been safe in Juba town, going to school and living life as normal since the crisis broke out in December 2013.
However, during the fierce fighting in July, which placed civilians in the crossfire of Government and opposition forces, she and her family were forced to flee to one of the two UN peacekeeping bases in Juba for protection.
Jacqueline says her life and education are on hold, but it is not herself that she is most concerned about. “I am most worried about the lack of schooling for young children and what it means for the future of South Sudan,” she says.
Suzan is a health promoter at the Malakal PoC site. She finds inspiration and comfort in her work, saying that it helps her miss her family, who she has not seen since the crisis broke out, a bit less.
Although the area is overcrowded, life in the PoC site can be lonely for those separated from their loved ones.
“I felt out of place when I first came here because I was alone. When I wasn’t working, I thought a lot about my relatives outside of the site.” Now, working with the community, she says “I feel comfortable now, as if my parents are here with me.”
Suzan has considered leaving, but she finds purpose in helping those that are often forgotten. She chooses to stay behind to support the most vulnerable, including mothers who have lost their husbands, the elderly and unaccompanied children.
Hungry for news on the peace negotiations between the Government and opposition, she listens attentively as I tell her many were advocating on their behalf, but that the situation did not appear to be improving.
She hopes for peace soon so people can stay in their homeland. For her, “All ethnicities should be in peace, so issues can be solved and we can stay.”
Mary and her family have been seeking protection at the PoC site in Bentiu since early 2014 after fleeing violence in Bentiu town. She is among the more than 120,000 IDPs living at the site.
Mary has long suffered from recurrent back pain. She visits one of IOM's primary health care clinics for treatment from time to time when the pain becomes too strong. She believes the pain is exacerbated by traveling outside of the PoC site to collect firewood, an often dangerous and arduous task.
“I feel better after treatment, but the pain often comes back if I have to carry a heavy load of firewood,” Mary says.
As the rainy season in South Sudan comes to a close and the dry season begins, civilians are bracing for the seasonal uptick in fighting as forces become more mobile. The IDP population at the Bentiu PoC site, for example, continues to grow. It increased by more than 18 per cent in November alone as people continue to flee fighting in nearby areas, just as they have done for the past three years.
*According to the International Crisis Group:http://reliefweb.int/report/south-sudan/50000-and-not-counting-south-sudans-war-dead
**Some names have been changed.