South Sudan’s warring parties have once again declared an official end to the country’s brutal civil war that killed an estimated 400,000 people and displaced millions of others over the past six years.
On Saturday, President Salva Kiir swore in opposition leader Riek Machar as his first deputy, narrowly meeting a twice delayed deadline to form a transitional coalition government as part of a power-sharing agreement signed in September 2018. Three other vice presidents were also sworn in – two from the government and one from the opposition – and a fifth from another opposition group is expected to be announced in the coming days.
Timeline: South Sudan since independence
South Sudan’s rival leaders form coalition government
S Sudan president, rebel leader agree to form unity government
The transitional government will lead the country to elections in three years.
Addressing the nation from the capital, Juba, Kiir urged the population to forgive one another like he and Machar did and assured the country that peace was now “irreversible”.
“It is no longer in the corner or on the way,” he said on Saturday. “Peace is here in Juba and it will spread to all corners of our country.”
This is the bitter rivals’ latest attempt at peace since fighting erupted between forces loyal to Kiir and troops supporting Machar in 2013, two years after South Sudan gained independence from Sudan.
Countless ceasefires have since been violated and a 2015 peace deal collapsed when renewed clashes broke out the next year, forcing Machar to flee the country on foot. While fighting largely subsided over the past year, the implementation of the 2018 agreement has been sluggish and fraught with a lack of funding and questionable political will. Two deadlines, in May and November, were missed due to unresolved key issues, including security arrangements and an agreement on the number of states.
On Saturday, reactions among locals towards the new government were mixed.
“The nation was fragmented along tribal lines and their coming together … is a key step towards uniting the country,” said John Garang, a Juba resident.
But Ayuel Chan, a local journalist with the state-owned South Sudan Broadcast Corporation, was more sceptical. “Unless something drastic happens, there will [be] little change in the status quo,” he said, striking a pessimistic tone over a scenario in which longtime government officials with a poor track record, including some who have held office since pre-independence, were re-elected.
South Sudan’s rival leaders form coalition government (3:36)
While South Sudan observers are lauding Saturday’s step as an important landmark, concerns linger over potential “deadlock and dysfunction” in the new government as well as a number of outstanding issues, Alan Boswell, a senior analyst at the International Crisis Group, told Al Jazeera.
Security arrangements in particular are “a total mess”, he said.
The failure of the previous peace deal is largely attributed to inadequate security arrangements.
As part of the latest peace deal, a unified force of at least 41,500 troops of opposition and government soldiers needed to unify into one national army, but that has not been realised.
Both parties agreed that security will be provided by the president for Machar and all other signatories, said government spokesman Ateny Wek Ateny.
Yet opposition spokesman Mabior Garang de Mabior told Al Jazeera they are “seeking assurances in writing” that the president will be able to guarantee the security of the various opposition groups in Juba.
Then there is the contentious issue of the number of states. Last week, in a major concession Kiir described as “painful”, the government agreed to revert the country to 10 states instead of 32, which it established in 2015, in what many South Sudan analysts saw as an attempt to gerrymander the country along ethnic lines. But in the same statement last week, Kiir also announced the creation of three administrative areas, which Machar said he would not accept.
“The return to 10 states will no doubt create new challenges, including tensions over the loss of government positions, newly unresolved borders and the fate of three administrative areas that remain under dispute,” said Dan Sullivan, a senior advocate for human rights at Refugees International.
South Sudan flooding worsens humanitarian crisis (2:04)
Civilians deliberately starved
Even if these issues are overcome, years of war have left the country in shambles, entrenched in corruption and human rights atrocities committed with impunity.
A sobering report by the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan last week said South Sudanese are being “deliberately starved, systematically surveilled and silenced, arbitrarily arrested and detained and denied meaningful access to justice”.
The report found that government officials were implicated in the “pillaging of public funds”, while millions of dollars were diverted from the National Revenue Authority depleting resources that could have been used to help millions of vulnerable people.
“The plundering of the public purse by officials is having a catastrophic impact on the humanitarian situation,” the commission said in a statement.
Seven-and-a-half million people are in need of aid, according to the UN. Almost 200,000 civilians shelter in the UN-protected sites across the country and more than 1.1 million people are facing severe hunger, according to recent figures by the government and the UN.
Hospitals in Juba are often without electricity and staff go without regular pay, said Alexander Dimiti, director general of reproductive health. Seated in his office in the dark, Banak Joshua, the director of the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs and Disaster Management, the body charged with helping the country’s 1.4 million internally displaced people, said the ministry often does not have enough money to buy fuel to power the generators.
Recent flooding affecting almost one million people and an incoming locust invasion are exacerbating the dire situation, in particular the food crisis.
The International Rescue Committee is seeing “too many malnourished children” in its clinics, said Celin Bore, the organisation’s deputy director of programmes in South Sudan, calling on the government to ramp up efforts and ensure humanitarians have access to areas previously unreachable due to violence.
‘Repairing damage to take generations’
The formation of the transitional government followed intense pressure from the international community and foreign donors, who have been providing the bulk of South Sudan’s humanitarian needs.
“The international community is sick and tired and fed up with providing the government services that the government of South Sudan should be providing for its own people,” Tibor Nagy, the United States assistant secretary of state for African affairs, said in a conference call in January.
Moving forward, South Sudan observers are looking for a change.
Rights groups have long accused the government of becoming increasingly intolerant and repressive, with Jehanne Henry, associate Africa director at Human Rights Watch, urging on Saturday the new administration to free abducted civilians and reform the “abusive national security service”.
While an important test will be if Kiir and Machar can coexist peacefully, the real gauge will be whether the millions of refugees and internally displaced people feel confident enough to return, voluntarily and resettle in their homes, said Lauren Blanchard, an analyst with the US Congress.
“Many eyes will be on Juba, but it will be important to monitor how this peace deal is implemented beyond the capital, and in the areas hardest hit by the conflict,” she said.
But notable change will take time.
“Ending a war is one thing,” said Boswell, from the Crisis Group. “Piecing South Sudan back together and repairing the damage of this war will take generations.”
After Moria fire, refugees decry conditions in new camp on Lesbos |NationalTribune.com
Refugees and migrants on the Greek island of Lesbos, having escaped the fire that engulfed Moria, have told Al Jazeera that living conditions inside a new camp are squalid and uninhabitable, just one day after their arrival. “There is no water, no toilet, no food,” 24-year-old Zaynab, an Afghan woman, told Al Jazeera by phone. “The…
Refugees and migrants on the Greek island of Lesbos, having escaped the fire that engulfed Moria, have told Al Jazeera that living conditions inside a new camp are squalid and uninhabitable, just one day after their arrival.
“There is no water, no toilet, no food,” 24-year-old Zaynab, an Afghan woman, told Al Jazeera by phone. “The smell is very bad because people go to the toilet on the floor in front of my tent.”
On Thursday, police launched an operation to rehouse thousands of asylum seekers who had been sleeping rough in supermarket car parks and roadsides, a week after a massive fire tore through their shelters in Moria, a sprawling unsanitary site originally designed with a capacity of 3,000, where 13,000 had lived.
The new Kara Tepe camp, near the island’s main town Mytilene, was made on a former military firing range and is close to the remains of the Moria site.
As of Friday, capacity at Kara Tepe had been expanded to 12,000 according to the Greek government, with 6,180 new residents. But many remain wary of the new accommodation.
A general view of the temporary camp for refugees and migrants near Mytilene town, on the northeastern island of Lesbos, Greece [Petros Giannakouris/The Associated Press]
Since her arrival, Zaynab has been staying inside her tent, too afraid to step outside amid heightened tensions.
Many refugees are angry and view the new shelter as a continuation of the notoriously neglected Moria camp.
Like in Moria, access to food and water is limited.
“They gave me one piece of meat and one bottle of water,” said Zaynab on Friday, who has not eaten since Thursday afternoon.
The flimsy privacy of a tent could not offer the young woman respite from a week of sleeping rough.
“The tents are very near to each other and at night, people were fighting until 1am.”
Zaynab suffers from migraines and insomnia but has been unable to take her medication.
“I asked an [aid] organisation to bring my medication but they said the police are not allowing them.”
Tensions have been compounded by a two-week quarantine enforced by the Greek government, with some refugees fearing their freedom of movement will be further stifled.
Like Zaynab, Mariam, a teenager, has not had access to running water since moving to Kara Tepe.
“We cannot live in here, we can just sleep,” she told Al Jazeera.
She is worried about the coming winter because her family tent has no wooden pallets to protect them from cold and rain.
Aid workers say the camp’s proximity to the sea could put refugees at further risk as icy winter winds set in.
Moussa 30, has taken to bathing in the sea, but says even that has become impossible because many people use the beach and the water as a toilet.
“If we continue this way, we will have another disease without corona[virus] … I am not going anywhere, I am inside my tent because I am afraid of corona.”
Astrid Castelein of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees told Al Jazeera: “For the moment it is an emergency site … but improved on a daily basis as much as possible.”
But conditions in the new camp fall short of minimum standards of dignified living under Greek and international law, according to Refugee Support Aegean (RSA), a local nonprofit.
“They are only given two bottles of water both for drinking and washing and many of them say they are washing themselves in the sea,” said Asterios Kanavos, a lawyer at RSA.
“They have no mattresses and their tents are very hot due to the weather because they are not protected from the sun.”
Greek authorities have blocked lawyers providing legal aid to refugee clients inside the camp, citing health concerns.
Meanwhile, the UNHCR says it is working to provide Kara Tepe residents with chemical toilets, showers and hand-washing facilities, while NGOs and the Greek government are setting up water supply systems and drainage.
“The priority is that everyone enters by today, at the latest tomorrow, also because of tensions with the local population,” said UNHCR’s Castelein.
A stone’s throw away, in the town of Moria, locals welcomed the move.
“We want them to be collected somewhere for their safety and ours,” said Moria resident Nevrakis Konstantinos.
By Sunday, Kara Tepe is expected to hold all 12,000 displaced refugees and migrants. Greek authorities this week said all asylum seekers should be able to leave the island by Easter next year.
After fire destroyed Greek camp, refugees seek European support |NationalTribune.com
Lesbos, Greece – In the middle of the burned remains that were once the Moria refugee camp lies a notebook left behind by one of the thousands of people who rushed to save their lives when fires tore through the sprawling refugee camp on Lesbos. On one page, a few basic sentences. The book had belonged…
Lesbos, Greece – In the middle of the burned remains that were once the Moria refugee camp lies a notebook left behind by one of the thousands of people who rushed to save their lives when fires tore through the sprawling refugee camp on Lesbos.
On one page, a few basic sentences. The book had belonged to an Afghan refugee trying to learn English, as they attempted to start a new life away from war.
“What is your favourite sport”, “My favourite sport is football”, “What do you do in your free time”, “I usually study book”, “What is your nationality”, “I am Afghan”.
He or she is likely one of the thousands of people who are now left searching for answers on the streets of Lesbos.
Since the fire almost a week ago, which left about 13,000 people without shelter, thousands have been sleeping on roadsides and petrol station forecourts.
A temporary camp nearby has been constructed to house some of the former Moria residents, but there is concern over plans for a permanent reception centre for refugees and migrants on Lesbos.
Locals reject the plan, aid workers have humanitarian concerns, and refugees fear the centre will resemble a prison, leaving them unable to start new lives in other EU countries.
Amid protests, with police firing tear gas at demonstrators, and journalists widely denied access to the site where thousands are currently sleeping over the past two days, the situation is tense.
According to the police, a “military operation” was ongoing and there were orders from the chief of police to keep journalists away from the area.
According to the Greek Ministry of Migration, there are now approximately 300 people in the new temporary camp, which has capacity for some 3,000 people.
An Afghan boy holds a sign saying ‘We need peace, freedom’ during a peaceful demonstration on September 12, demanding to be allowed to leave Lesbos island. [Anna Pantelia/Al Jazeera]
One young father from Afghanistan, who has been sleeping on the streets for days, described feeling bereft and worried about going to the new temporary camp without his wife, who he usually makes key decisions with.
After the fire, she was hospitalised and he was left caring for their six children, including an eight-month-old baby.
Those who have been living on the streets feel abandoned by the “Europe” they hoped for when they crossed the sea to reach Greece.
“Everyone knows what’s happening,” said Marzia, 27, bouncing her three-month-old baby on her lap. “Angela Merkel sees us and closes her eyes. I came here for my children and nobody has opened the way for me.”
A notebook with English sentences carefully written out on the side of a path in the middle of the burned out remains of Moria camp. A reminder of the lives people were trying to build in here even amongst such chaos. pic.twitter.com/iEeexpXuh0
— Katy Fallon (@katymfallon) September 13, 2020
Food distribution has been hectic and sometimes non-existent but Marzia says eating is less important to her than leaving the island.
“We don’t want food, we need freedom,” she said.
At protests this weekend, people raised cardboard placards bearing slogans such as “we want, peace, freedom”, and “Europe, help”.
They were met on Saturday with tear gas by riot police and small children were among those affected. Rallies on Sunday were mainly led by women and children who chanted “No camp, freedom.”
“We don’t want to go, we never want to go back again,” said Nazir Ahmad, 26, a refugee from Afghanistan.
He sleeps in the car park of a supermarket. As twilight falls, children play exuberant games of hopscotch and a group of men play volleyball.
Just a week ago, this car park would have been empty on a Sunday evening.
“I have two children and my wife is pregnant again,” said Ahmad. “We have been one year and two months here. How can I go back to a camp here again? We will go anywhere except here.
“We want to go to the mainland or another European country, at least to be somewhere where people understand us.
“They use tear gas against us and on my children. We had to save ourselves from Afghanistan but here we are sometimes in danger from other refugees, from far-right people and sometimes from police.”
Nazanin, who is 14 years old, writes a message carefully on her phone that she wants to share.
“All of the refugees want freedom from this situation, we don’t want hell again, we want help from Europe,” she types. “Please share it with people from Europe,” she says and asks if people in other European countries care about the situation she is in.
A couple of children sitting on the side of the road hold a cardboard sign, written in German, addressing Horst Seehofer, the German interior minister. “Mr Seehofer, say yes, thank you,” it says.
Some federal states in Germany have offered to take in refugees from Lesbos and the mayors of cities such as Cologne and Dusseldorf have written a letter to Seehofer and Chancellor Angela Merkel to this effect.
Greece has repeatedly called for greater European solidarity over the years to deal with the serious overcrowding on the Aegean island camps.
The new temporary camp is visible from the Moria-Mytilene road, dotted with white UNHCR tents.
In a press conference on Sunday, Notis Mitarakis, the Greek migration minister, said it would be “temporary,” but confirmed there would be a new “permanent” structure on the island soon.
Women sit down and pray in the road outside Lidl in the twilight. pic.twitter.com/KyVYziShp8
— Katy Fallon (@katymfallon) September 13, 2020
Before the fire, there had been discussions about “closed and controlled” camps from the Ministry of Migration in light of the first confirmed case of coronavirus infection in Moria camp, which had about 35 confirmed cases before it burned to the ground.
Now coronavirus is only one of many problems facing people who fled Moria.
On the streets, conversations are bursting with questions. “What is going to happen to us? Do you know? Have any European countries offered to take us?”
For now, as tensions simmer, there is little to do but wait.
In the twilight of Sunday evening, a small girl approaches holding her arm, which has a cut on it.
“Are you a doctor?” she asks. A mother also asks for milk formula for her baby, she has none.
At protests this weekend, people raised cardboard placards bearing slogans such as “We want peace, freedom”, and “Europe, help”.
An Afghan woman runs to escape tear gas that Greek riot police fired against the crowd after a peaceful demonstration in Kara Tepe, Lesbos [Anna Pantelia/Al Jazeera]
After devastating Beirut explosion, trauma sinks in |NationalTribune.com
Beirut, Lebanon – Walking through the rubble of her neighbourhood last week, Sabine Salameh spotted a car crushed under the yellow sandstone blocks of an old heritage building. The silver sedan was flattened, caked in dust and was clearly never going to function again. “I thought, that’s exactly how I feel right now,” Salameh says.…
Beirut, Lebanon – Walking through the rubble of her neighbourhood last week, Sabine Salameh spotted a car crushed under the yellow sandstone blocks of an old heritage building.
The silver sedan was flattened, caked in dust and was clearly never going to function again.
“I thought, that’s exactly how I feel right now,” Salameh says.
She brought a spray can close to its dented bodywork and wrote “Mood” in black, capital letters. Later, the 27-year-old freelance writer found out that the car belonged to a friend – a testament, she agrees, to how small Beirut is and how inextricably-linked so many of its inhabitants are.
A ferocious explosion tore through the Lebanese capital on August 4, killing more than 170 people, wounding upwards of 6,000 and leaving some 300,000 homeless. It also rippled across the connections that criss-cross the city, shaking even those who were at no immediate risk from the blast wave itself.
‘That’s exactly how I feel right now,’ Beirut resident Sabine Salameh said of the flattened silver sedan, caked in dust [Azhari/Al Jazeera]
Some 10 days later, as the sound of glass being cleared recedes behind the clamour of hammers and the drills of reconstruction, many are struggling to see a way forward – the trauma of the explosion at the Beirut port has piled problems onto people already weary after a biblically-bad year.
In October, the worst wildfires in decades were swiftly followed by an unprecedented uprising demanding an overhaul of the political system. Then, the country’s deepest-ever economic crisis impoverished thousands. Then the coronavirus.
“And now this,” Salameh says. “We’re constantly trying to put our lives back together and then something else happens.”
“You feel that there is no place for you to put your feet on the ground, there’s nowhere safe,” she adds.
“We didn’t feel safe on the streets and then the revolution gave them back to us – we conquered the corner, then the square. Then corona showed us that safety is only inside our house, and then this broke everything: our home isn’t even safe any more.”
‘We are waste-people in a wasteland’
Ghalia Alwani, a Syrian writer based in Beirut, had just opened her balcony door, facing the port, when the sky turned grey and an airborne tsunami rolled over her home.
Since then, the 25-year-old has only managed to spend one night at her house in the badly affected Mar Mikhael district, a cosmopolitan neighbourhood where foreigners of varied backgrounds live side-by-side with Lebanese.
The rumble of trucks driving past her glassless windows jolts her awake at night. “I’m literally scared of my bed,” she says.
The sound of running water in the shower morphs into the wailing of ambulance sirens and screaming people. Through her blurred vision, a roadside fruit stall contorts into dead bodies, including a bloodied couple she saw as she tried to escape.
All the memories are compounded by the fact that, like many Lebanese, Alwani has little confidence that the local investigation into the explosion will bring any justice for the victims.
“We are waste-people in a wasteland,” she said. “I’ve always felt through my experience with Syria that Arabs are so expendable. Maybe people here felt a bit more special because of the hip bars and life and art, but we are all waste-people who die and it doesn’t matter.”
Alwani stops, winces at the sound of a loud thud, and carries on: “It’s not normal that we can’t find joy in silly things like the latest TikTok trend because we’ve literally seen death. I don’t want to be an Arab-survivor-victim for life. But I am, it’s done.”
The Restart Center, specialised in rehabilitating victims of war, set up a tent in Beirut’s Mar Mikhael neighbourhood [Timour Azhari/Al Jazeera]
The explosion was so fierce that psychologists trained to help victims of war and torture have deployed to the streets, going door to door to provide emergency mental healthcare.
“Right now, we can talk about acute stress, people scared, fearing it may happen again, and lots of anger, we’re seeing so much anger,” Joelle Wehbe, a clinical psychologist at the Restart Center, specialised in rehabilitating victims of war, said from a tent set up in the Mar Mikhael neighbourhood.
She urges survivors to speak about what they saw, heard and felt, rather than push it down, which would only “amplify the symptoms”.
Many feel all they can do is to bury the horrors.
Mohamad Soliman, 27, was watching Netflix and drinking green tea when the explosion threw him and his dog into a wall of his house.
Shell-shocked, he walked through the street past dead people. One, he recalls, was bloodless but propped up lifeless against a wall, like “the soul was knocked out of him”.
He pushed on to his neighbour’s house. She was stuck on the fifth floor, blinded by shards of glass.
Soliman climbed stairs strewn with debris and cleaned her bloodied face. One of her eyes was split open. He says he told her it was dust, and shudders at the memory.
The 27-year-old Egyptian lost everything in the explosion – his apartment, a bar he owns and a popular restaurant he has stakes in. People he knew – the chef at a local sandwich place; a waiter at a Resto-pub; Rawan, a 19-year-old waitress – were also in the explosion.
“What’s next? I don’t know. I get up and try to do something useful so I don’t think. Give me boxes to carry or bottles to move,” he says, before shaking his head.
“I can’t make any life decisions or think about the future when my whole community is gone.”
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