More than a hundred SOS children, SOS mothers and staff members were evacuated on 13 March from Malakal, South Sudan, where a military conflict has escalated in recent weeks.
SOS Families on bus from airport to new home in Juba, South Sudan
The first group of 52 SOS children, five SOS mothers and one SOS aunt arrived in Juba after being airlifted out of Malakal by a UN Humanitarian Air Service Plane. They were later joined by a second group of 48 SOS Children and 13 staff members. The SOS families had initially sought protection at the United Nations Mission (UNMISS) base in Malakal after fleeing the SOS Children’s Village in February.
The SOS Children’s Village in Malakal – located in the northern region of South Sudan – is now in the hands of rebels. Reports say the centre of town has been stripped bare, shops have been looted and houses burnt; young girls are being raped and boys are forcefully being taken to join opposition forces.
There have been three separate outbursts of fighting in Malakal since violence erupted earlier this year between government forces and tribal factions. The main market town was burned to the ground and residential homes destroyed. The rebels reportedly threatened to kill people if they did not hand over their phones and money. Acting Malakal SOS Village Director Isaac James had a gun pointed at him and was ordered to hand over everything in his possession including his National ID.
Oyek Odhong, an SOS youth leader, was taken by insurgents towards Nasir, a small town 30km from the Ethiopian border, but later released. He reports: “I was taken for eight days by rebels; I am very happy to be in Juba right now. I am happy to see the mothers and children are safe.”
SOS children enjoy a first meal in their new home in Juba
Wilhelm Huber, SOS Children’s Villages Regional Director for East Africa said, “It has been a very emotional moment for all of us, seeing our children and their mothers brought home (so to speak) – and into a much safer and protected environment.”
SOS Children Villages’ families are now in a 21-room house where new mattresses, bed sheets, blankets, towels, water and cleaning materials have been provided. The property is wall-fenced for enhanced security.