Malakal/Bentiu, 25 September 2023 – The aftermath of the rain in Upper Nile left its mark on the Malakal displacement camp, evident from the puddles of water spattered across the makeshift shelters that are home to thousands of people, most of whom fled Sudan in the wake of the ongoing fighting between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and Rapid Support Forces (RSF) on 15 April 2023.
Mathew Gatwang glances at all this from his makeshift shelter, beside him, his family with whom he shares the shelter. He calls this home, at least for now. A former security guard at one of the private hospitals in Khartoum, he is relieved to have made it out but still wishes for better.
“When the fighting started in Khartoum, we thought it would end soon, but things turned from bad to worse. There was no water, no electricity, and the little food we had in the house got finished. I decided to gather my family and leave,” he recalls.
Mathew arrived at the Malakal Transit Centre in August and is one of the thousands of people being supported by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) to reach their final destinations.
“The situation here is terrible, we have no proper shelter, not enough food. We are really suffering but we have nothing to do,” says Mathew.
Over 200 kilometers away in Bentiu displacement camp sits Tereza Nyakuola. Her story and Mathew’s are two sides of a coin. Tereza and her children have been living in the camp for the last nine years since 2014 when her home was burnt to ashes during the South Sudan conflict. The camp, located in Rubkona in the northern part of South Sudan, is the largest in the country and has recently seen the number of occupants rapidly increase due to the arrival of South Sudan returnees fleeing the ongoing fighting in Sudan.
When conflict broke out in South Sudan in 2013, more than 4 million South Sudanese fled their homes to seek refuge in other parts of the country and in neighbouring countries. Tereza was one of them.
“I saw my house going up in flames; we lost everything – cattle, crops and even loved ones. The only safe place for my children and me was the Protection of Civilians (POC) site,” recalls the 40-year-old mother of two.
Since its establishment as a POC site at the height of the conflict in South Sudan, the camp has, over the years, hosted people displaced from floods, drought, and recently, the returns caused by the fighting in Sudan that has seen more than 209,000 people forced to flee into the country, with more than 90 per cent of them being South Sudanese, adding to the more than 2.2 million people displaced within the country.
The Bentiu camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs), established in December 2013 to accommodate people who were fleeing their homes from conflict, was hosting more than 102,811 individuals displaced both by conflict in the country and in Sudan and flooding, prior to the conflict in Sudan.
It is one of the eight camps in the country hosting tens of thousands of displaced populations including arrivals from Sudan. Amidst the rising levels of displacement, efficiency in providing immediate life-saving humanitarian assistance is becoming paramount, especially in the face of persistent effects of climate change, disasters and environmental degradation and conflict both within and in neighbouring countries.
The responsible use of biometrics, with full respect to privacy and personal data protection, has emerged as an effective way to not only register those internally displaced but also improve the reliability of verification, and support inter-agency coordination and distribution of urgent needs including food and shelter.
The recent devastating floods have exacerbated an already worse situation.
Like Tereza and her family, those who arrived at the Protection of Civilians site were provided with urgent humanitarian assistance including shelter materials, blankets, and tokens to access food rations – services whose access was dependent on paper tokens that were prone to damage or loss. The increase in the number of those displaced and the need for efficient and effective service provision underscored the need for a biometric system.
“Of all the things I received, it was very difficult to maintain the small paper tokens; they would easily be damaged either by rain or by merely holding it in your hands,” says Tereza.
IOM’s Displacement Tracking Matrix (DTM) uses biometric registration of new arrivals to establish the profile of IDP households and individuals through detailed data collection after which they are issued plastic cards to replace the paper tokens to be used for receiving food rations.
“Biometric registration plays an important role in optimizing targeted service provision by humanitarian actors,” says Benson Mbogani, IOM South Sudan DTM Officer.
DTM works with IOM’s Camp Coordination and Camp Management (CCCM) team to ensure that complaints about lost cards are addressed. CCCM’s Complaint Mechanism Desk receives complaints from IDPs and forwards them to relevant service providers. For lost cards, CCCM forwards them to DTM where the heads of households’ information are biometrically verified against the previously recorded information and a replacement card is issued.
Tereza realized that her card was lost when she went to receive her food ration but could not find it.
“When I couldn’t find my card, I worried how my children would survive without food. I am happy that my complaint was considered and now I have my new card.”
“This card you see here is not just a card, it is my right hand. If am not there today, I know my children will have something to eat because of this card,” says Tereza while holding her new card close to her heart.
Thousands of people in South Sudan are still feeling the devastating impact of the flooding which engulfed most parts of the country since 2019. In Unity State, Tereza’s home state, the flooding has caused more displacement leading to the establishment of five more IDP camps.
Like many of her fellow IDPs, Tereza would like to return to her home and continue her once peaceful life, but this is no longer possible as the area is inundated.
“I have nothing to go home to. Before the floods started, I thought I would go home and rebuild my life because I cannot be in the IDP camp for the rest of my life, but now the floods have taken over the land that was left to my name. What will I go home again for?” Tereza wonders.
IOM underlines the importance of using biometrics responsibly and, notably, of ensuring the protection of personal data of beneficiaries and respect for the rule of law. When processing biometric data, IOM ensures that the data is collected in a lawful and fair manner with the consent of beneficiaries, and that the purpose of the processing is specified and legitimate. In this context, it is important to ensure that biometric data are kept secure, both technically and organizationally; it also ensures they are protected by appropriate measures against unauthorized modification, tampering, unlawful destruction, accidental loss, improper disclosure, and undue transfer.
IOM’s DTM team works in all these camps supporting with biometric registration to enable partners to reach the intended beneficiaries during distributions. The team also conducts Flow Monitoring to identify mobility dynamics of migrants. Meanwhile, information from DTM’s ad hoc surveys, headcounts, infrastructure/service mapping exercises and other assessments helps partners in planning their response.
This story was written by Nabie Loyce, IOM South Sudan Media and Communications Assistant