Evacuation from South Sudan

We’ve left Wau. A year ago I wrote exactly the same sentence (Dutch only), in the same situation. We have been evacuated again, had to leave because of the insecurity. Still, it’s very different now. Last year there was shooting around our house, people were fighting and dying in Wau. This year, all has been quiet and peaceful in town. Wau itself is safe, but other parts of the country are not. There is heavy fighting going on, and the fighting can easily be transferred to Wau. Our feelings are very different now from last year. Then we were relieved because we were able to leave, now we feel upset because we have to leave.

The conflict
At the same time there are many similarities between the situations. Both conflicts originated from political disagreements that in a normal country would be solved politically. In South Sudan people are not able to do that, so conflicts are settled using violence, even more so when different tribes are involved. Both conflicts started long before they erupted. Last year it started in October, with the decision to transfer the County-office without involving the community. This year it started in June, when the President sacked his cabinet and the Vice-President, after which the Vice-President openly became his political opponent. Both men want the leadership of the party, in the upturn to the elections in 2015. For a while it looked like it would be a political fight, with all possible means, but at least without violence. A bit more than a week ago that changed. What really happened during that Sunday night is still unclear, but the most probable scenario it that different factions in the Presidential Guard decided to use their weapons to fight over a misunderstanding and that fight got out of control. It led to the use of tanks and mortar shells and now hundreds or thousands of casualties are to be regretted. The other scenario is the one told by the President, accusing his former Vice-President of leading a coup attempt and arresting his supporters. Of course the accusation and arrests fuelled the fighting. At the moment there is fighting in the whole eastern part of the country, and tensions are rising in other parts as well. Western Bahr el Ghazal state, with the capital Wau, is still peaceful but nobody knows how long that will remain. Soldiers are leaving Wau to fight in other areas, so hopefully there will not be fighting soon.

Evacuation

The trip
Last year we had a direct flight from Wau to Juba, which was very feasible because nothing was happening in the rest of the country. This year the evacuation turned out to include being in a too small airplane for too long a time, because we had to pick up people from various locations. We were supposed to leave Wau around 10 o’clock. The plane arrived a bit after 10, but reasonably in time. Unfortunately the staff at the airport didn’t seem to want to cooperate with our departure. First we were not allowed to enter the building to have our luggage checked, and neither were we allowed to pass the gate without the security check. Finally they checked our luggage with a lot of resistance, but if they had to check it, than they would do it thoroughly, so that took ages. After the check we wanted to pass the waiting room to go to the plane, but the door of the room was locked and they refused to open it. To remove the lock they needed our “logistics” (no clue what they meant and they were not able to explain), and until that time we had to take a seat and wait. Well, that was not my intention, there was still a plane waiting for us. In the end our director, who was aboard the plane, entered through the backside. By that time they were content with a list with our names. Finally we could leave… one and a half hours after schedule. From Wau we flew to Yambio, Mundri and Yei, in the south of the country. All short distances, so we flew at a low altitude. With the temperature on the ground that meant a lot of turbulence. At least half of the flight I felt sick, fortunately we could get out of the plane at almost any landing. In Yei we were lucky, because we could get our exit-stamp there, so we didn’t need to get that in Juba. All the better, it was a complete mess at the airport in Juba. Of course it’s always chaos there, even with the normal number of departures of one or a few an hour. Now every few minutes a plane departed and the airport cannot handle that. I don’t think Juba has ever been this busy, it looked almost like Schiphol Airport with a plane taking off every two minutes. There were no landings anymore after the curfew of 6 pm, because passengers wouldn’t be able to leave the airport anymore. When we left, there were only departing planes, one after the other. Then Entebbe in Uganda is a very well organised airport. After arrival there, VSO brought us to a guesthouse and from there they arranged flights home for everyone. That’s where we are now. It’s nice to see family and friends again, but the feeling remains we shouldn’t have been here.

The feeling
Our feeling about the evacuation is different this year because we don’t have a clue how it will end. Last year was a local conflict and although there were casualties, it was reasonably small and predictable how it would end. In the end it was fighting between young men armed with sticks and security services armed with guns. We didn’t know how long it would last, but chances were that it would calm down and we would be able to return after a reasonable time. This is different. It is fighting between military factions and different tribes (although people keep denying it). How it will end is completely unpredictable. The question is not when we will be able to return but if we will be able to return and that is something completely different.

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One thought on “Evacuation from South Sudan

  1. Hi Marouschka and Rene, I can imagine your feelings about the whole situation in South Sudan, you being in the Netherlands and the fact that it isn’t clear if you can return to South Sudan. I am in contact with the Ministry of Health regularly and what they have told me is that work is going on as normal. At the moment I am figuring out if and how I can support them from a distance. Hope for South Sudan that VSO will keep the program open and let volunteers return to their placements as soon as it is possible and safe to do so. Good luck!.

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