Fighting first came to Malakal on Christmas Eve, when an outbreak of violence began between rebels and government forces and lasted four days. Fighting resumed in recent days, and rebel forces claim they have captured the town, which is considered an important gateway to the oilfields of South Sudan's Upper Nile province. This has been denied by the army.
Civilians fled the city as heavy fighting took hold. Reports indicate that an overloaded boat carrying between 200 and 300 people sunk as it crossed the White Nile, killing everyone on board. The victims included families attempting to escape the violence.
How has our Children's Village been affected?
Our Children's Village in Malakal lies within the region affected by the fighting. No SOS families have been harmed so far, although, during the last outbreak of violence over Christmas, rebel soldiers passed through the Village while trying to escape. This week, our Youth Coordinator was injured when caught in the crossfire outside the Village. He was admitted to hospital, where he received treatment, but was later discharged and is now recovering.
On Monday, our team in Malakal met with the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), which is currently operating 10 refugee camps around the country. They discussed the possibility of accommodating SOS families within the UNMISS camp in Malakal before another rebel attack on the city.
Problems at UNMISS camp
However, the scale of the crisis has led to overcrowding and a shortage of basic facilities at the UNMISS camp. Essentials such as sanitation, water, food and shelter are currently in short supply. The UN says that around 12,000 displaced people are living at the base today, and inadequate sanitation means a heightened risk of disease.
A renewed outbreak of fighting in Malakal yesterday meant that transporting SOS families from our Village could place them at serious risk. Speaking on the phone, our Assistant Village Director from Malakal said: “Generally, the fighting [involves people] looking for South Sudan army soldiers, and staying in the UN camp is not [safe] as today, four [displaced people] were shot this afternoon inside the UN camp.”
Safer to stay put
At this time, we believe that the safest plan of action is for our children to remain at the Children's Village. UNICEF and the World Food Programme have supplied food and provisions for a further 10 days.
Meanwhile, rebels are initiating small-scale fighting on the outskirts of the capital, Juba, though the city appears to be largely safe at the present time. In the Ethiopian capital Addis Abeba, peace talks are ongoing between delegates attempting to agree a ceasefire.
Our Children's Village in Malakal has provided care to many of the region's most vulnerable children long before independence in 2011. Find out how we have helped children and families around Malakal for over a decade.