Leer County, South Sudan and threats to aid agencies

October 7, 2015 OPINION/NEWS


Peter Louis

Aid agencies operating in South Sudan have expressed concerns over the escalating violence in the Unity State, the International Committee of the Red Cross having now been forced to withdraw its entire staff from a humanitarian compound in Leer County after it was looted and its aid workers threatened.

Dozens of well-organised armed men entered the compound over the weekend and stole equipment, medical supplies and money. Two ICRC vehicles were also taken. Staff, including ten Red Cross workers, were threatened. The incident happened amidst intense fighting between armed groups.

“Our staff are trying to provide assistance to people who are in desperate need. Our main concern now is for the vulnerable population who are left with no access to humanitarian aid and who are at risk of being caught up in the fighting,” said the head of the ICRC in South Sudan, Jürg Eglin.

“These incidents against humanitarian organisations are unacceptable. They hamper our efforts to respond to people in need. We are in contact with all relevant civilian and military authorities from both sides to try to find out what exactly happened and why,” said Mr Eglin.

In May 2015, the ICRC had to evacuate its former base in Leer due to deteriorating security conditions and had not been able to permanently return until September. A distribution of food was planned for October but the renewed clashes have prevented the Red Cross from carrying out its activities. The ICRC have stated that they will not resume operations in Leer County until security conditions improve and assurances are given from all relevant parties.

The ICRC strongly reminded all sides to respect the civilian population and civilian property. Under International Humanitarian Law, civilians and wounded must be spared and medical workers, medical facilities and humanitarian organisations must be allowed to carry out their duties in safety.



Médecins Sans Frontières

Civilian populations in Leer and Mayendit Counties have once again been deprived of access to urgently needed medical and humanitarian assistance after a Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) compound in Leer was looted twice by well-organised armed men on October 2nd and 3rd. As a result, MSF was forced to suspend medical activities and evacuate its team from Leer.

“MSF strongly condemns these armed robberies of its medical personnel and facilities,” stated MSF Emergency Manager Tara Newell. “These incidents have forced MSF to suspend its medical activities in Leer and they are responsible for depriving the population of urgently needed medical assistance.”

On Friday, October 2nd, amid renewed clashes, MSF was looted by armed men who entered its compound with their weapons, intimidated MSF staff with threats of violence and stole medical supplies, vehicles, technical equipment and personal belongings. MSF remained in Leer to continue providing medical assistance to war-wounded patients who were receiving treatment at the time of the incident.

The MSF compound and personnel were then looted a second time by the same armed group on Saturday October 3rd, rendering it impossible for the organisation to continue its medical activities. As a result, MSF was forced to temporarily suspend its operations in Leer and evacuate its team. None of the staff were injured during the incidents and were able to provide treatment to five war-wounded patients before evacuating.

“MSF’s medical activities in Leer have been a vital lifeline to vulnerable populations suffering from malaria, malnutrition and other illnesses,” stated Newell. “Following these unacceptable incidents, there is no medical actor left on the ground in Leer to provide life-saving medical care.”

Access to humanitarian assistance in the southern Unity State has been severely limited since May when an upsurge in fighting and violence against civilians forced hundreds of thousands of people from their homes and humanitarian actors to evacuate. In July, MSF was the only medical organisation able to resume activities in Leer with a small medical team, which has also been providing mobile clinics for displaced populations in Leer and northern Mayendit counties. This is the third time MSF has been forced to suspend medical activities in Leer since the conflict began in South Sudan in December 2013.






Peter Louis

Peter Louis works as a freelance Videographer and Journalist in the Republic of South Sudan. He previously worked for Ebony TV, South Sudan Radio and South Sudan TV, Wau.



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