The attack on Malakal by rebel forces has been brutal. Renewed fighting took hold of the city on 18th February. Today, the town is virtually empty, except for the remains of the dead, including women and children.
UN personnel have reported overwhelming scenes of destruction upon entering Malakal hospital, which is now empty of patients and manned instead by armed rebel soldiers. The dead including those those killed in their beds. Patients fortunate enough to escape with their lives report that soldiers entered the hospital on 19th February, a day after the renewal of fighting in Malakal. They killed anybody unable to buy their lives with money or possessions.
The rebels have announced that they intend to remain in Malakal as they push further into the region. Opposition officer Brigadier General Michael Wal Nyak said: “We are going to establish our headquarters here in Malakal. But our forces are going to keep advancing from here as well, to take the oil fields.”
SOS Children's Village evacuated
Against this violent and unpredictable backdrop, we decided that the best way to keep our children safe was to evacuate our Children’s Village. Today, the majority of our children and young people are taking shelter at the UN Mission’s Malakal base (UNMISS).
Despite the relative safety, conditions at UNMISS are by no means ideal. The site is overcrowded due to the scale of need. Those sheltering there cannot leave the compound. Three of our children are ill with mild sickness, and are responding well to treatment. We are working with UNICEF to ensure our children get all the support they need to lead a comfortable life in the camp.
Shortly after fighting initially broke out, a group of thirty-six children and young people left in the care of SOS youth leader Isaac James to seek safety across the River Nile, which flows between Malakal and the town of Wau Shiluk on the opposite bank. After fighting broke out in Wau Shiluk as well, Isaac led the group to the town of Paloich, around 107 miles in Malakal, where they arrived on 5th March. Paloich contains a functioning airport, and we are working to transport our children and staff to the relative safety of the capital, Juba.
The volatile nature of the crisis in South Sudan means that we are responding as events unfold to ensure the immediate safety of our children. For the long term, we are speaking with the Deputy Governor of Upper Nile State to discuss relocating our children while Malakal remains unstable.
The situation in brief
Fighting began last November, when President Salwar Kiir accused his former deputy Riek Machar, whom he had sacked earlier in the year, of staging an attempted coup. Violence began in the capital Juba and quickly spread across the country. South Sudan is home to two major ethnic groups, the Dinka and the Nuer, and the fighting has recently taken an ethnic turn. Oil and a long-standing cattle-raiding feud are also factors in the unrest. As a key oil-producing hub, Malakal has become a key focus of the violence in recent weeks.
Today, the humanitarian situation is dire:
- 710,600 are thought to have been internally displaced within South Sudan since mid-December.
- An estimated 380,000 of those are children (under 18 years).
- 171,000 people are now seeking refuge in neighbouring countries.
- 5,172 children under 5 are facing severe acute malnutrition.
How you can help
For twelve years, SOS Children has provided a loving home for the most vulnerable children in Malakal. Long before the South Sudan achieved independence, we were there to provide new families for children who had lost their parents. As South Sudan enters a new period of violence, we will remain to offer shelter to children who really need us.
Please help. Sponsor a child.
Alternatively, find out more about our work in South Sudan.