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Loa - 19 Aug 2021

President Kiir urges refugees to return home, says elections won’t be credible without population

President Kiir addressing the congregation during the centenary celebrations at Loa Parish.
President Kiir addressing the congregation during the centenary celebrations at Loa Parish.

The President of South Sudan has urged refugees in the neighboring countries of Uganda, Kenya, and Sudan among others to come back home and join in developing the nation.

President Salva Kiir who spoke to the congregation at Our Lady of Assumption Loa Parish of the Catholic Diocese of Torit during the celebrations of a centenary of faith last Sunday also urged the people (Madi) of Loa who fled elsewhere in the country to return to their homes.

“I would like to appeal to the residents of this region who are still in refuge to come back home. This appeal also goes to others across the country,” President Kiir said. “I will repeat, come home and join hands with us to develop our country. We are aware of the challenges that face returnees but I still urge you to come home. Home is better than foreign land.”

He pledged that the executive will work closely with the newly sworn-in Reconstituted Transitional Legislative Assembly to ensure the return of the internally displaced and those in refugee camps.

“With the three arms of government now established, we shall work together to propose all the programs that will support the return and resettlement of displaced persons. The executive branch of the government will work with the newly sworn-in Reconstituted Transitional Legislative Assembly to support programs for your return,” Kiir reassured. "This is important because your return has a direct link to the full implementation of the peace agreement. We cannot for example hold a credible election when the majority of our people are in displacement camps.” 

The president commended the Catholic Church for its work, urged it to continue being the voice of reason, and urged the institution to walk with the people in the journey of peace. 

“As an institution, the Catholic Church has proven its value to our people. To the Church leadership, please continue to be the voice of reason in our country. Walk with us in this journey of peacebuilding. Support us in our efforts to prevent spoilers from reverting the gains we have made in the implementation of the Revitalized Peace Agreement which we signed in September 2018,” Kiir said.  

He added: “The Revitalized Peace Agreement is the path to stability and we shall implement it in its entirety. There are those who doubt our will to implement this agreement, but I can assure you that we will prove them wrong.” 

Mabuto Isaac, a pilgrim who came for the centenary celebrations from Palorinya Refugee Camp in northern Uganda said he wishes to return home despite sporadic insecurity because there is a lot of suffering in the camps. 

“Yes, that is a good idea by the way. It can relieve us from the suffering which we are facing in the camp. The condition keeps on worsening because food rations keep reducing every month so food is not sufficient,” Mabutu said. “You know, if I compare the conditions in the camp, at home I can go and dig, plant something and I can feed my family. It is fairly okay now, not like those days which made us run away.”

Okullo Peter, a resident of Magwi said the government needs to carry out massive awareness campaigns in the camps for refugees to return home.

“People are not thinking about the current situation but about how to redevelop our homes. There are a lot of things that the government can do. People in authority can go and have a word with people in the camps, to sensitize them,” Okullo said. “People need information about what is happening, encourage them to stay away from the rumors of political differences and they (government) can also support youth livelihood programs.”

However, Oryema Emmanuel, a civil society activist in Eastern Equatoria State, cautions that it is not safe for refugees to return home just yet given the escalating sporadic insecurity in the country. He fingered the country’s leaders for turning the peace agreement into a comedy in their speeches and said they were full of theories and not practical. 

“It is not safe for returnees and these incidents (ambushes) are scaring returnees not to come back to their place, their original homeland,” Oryema said. “If there is peace in the Republic of South Sudan, we could not see people staying in IDP camps, you cannot stay in a POC within your own country.”

He added: “People are supposed to come voluntarily home when there is a sign of peace. People who are in refugee camps and the diaspora are suffering and they are yearning to come home to see their home villages, to restore peace and their lives. Now people are talking about peace yet they will not be safe. If people coming for a celebration can be shot on the road, what is this now? This is very bad and it is scaring people from coming back home. People may not come because this incident is adding problems.”

Thousands of people from various places in South Sudan and Pilgrims from Uganda graced the centenary celebrations of Our Lady of Assumption Parish in Loa near Nimule in Eastern Equatoria State last weekend. 

The Madi area is among those devastated by the war that broke out in 2016 forcing many to flee the country, with the majority seeking refuge in Uganda.