Refugees from South Sudan wait to be settled outside the Khour Al-Waral refugee camp in Al-Salam locality, some 69-kilometers south of Rebek, capital of White Nile State, Sudan, May 18, 2017. (Xinhua/Mohamed Babiker)
JUBA, Dec. 20 (Xinhua) -- The United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) on Wednesday said it has closed the first Protection of Civilians site in the northern Melut town in war-torn South Sudan after internally displaced persons (IDPs) opted to return to their homes.
UNMISS said in a statement that there have been 562 recently registered civilians in Melut town given the improved security there, 255 were relocated elsewhere with some choosing to shift to the Malakal site out of personal protection needs while others moved home to Renk, Ulang, Maban and Wau.
"It's gratifying to finally see people feel safe enough to go home. There is conflict across much of South Sudan where people fear for their lives. But in some areas, like Melut, we are able to help people out of the camps back to their communities," said head of UNMISS David Shearer.
UNMISS said the PoC site, next to the UNMISS base in Melut in the Upper Nile region, had provided sanctuary to hundreds of families since the civil war broke out four years ago.
It added that in the past week, these families have been returned to their homes with the assistance of the UNMISS and UNHCR, in partnership with other humanitarian agencies.
"We will look at every camp individually to see if the conditions allow people to return home voluntarily and safely. Where these conditions exist we will try to assist people back," it said, adding that camps are not a long-term solution.
There has been significant consultation with the community and humanitarian agencies about the relocation to ensure the families continue to receive assistance when they return to their former communities, UNMISS said.
It also said protection of civilians is primarily the South Sudan government's responsibility but, in many cases, people have fled from government security forces.
"The closure of the site at Melut will enable the peacekeeping troops based there to shift their focus from guarding the camp to increasing patrols in the surrounding area," it said.
South Sudan descended into violence in December 2013 after political dispute between President Salva Kiir and his former deputy Riek Machar led to split within the SPLA, leaving soldiers to fight alongside ethnic lines.
The 2015 peace agreement to end the conflict was weakened after outbreak of renewed fighting in July 2016 which forced Machar to flee the nation.