UNHCR South Sudan Press Release
JUBA, South Sudan (May 25) – Since April UNHCR has been providing satellite phone call services to some of the South Sudanese displaced in the Protection of Civilian (POC) site in Wau wishing to find and talk to their relatives displaced elsewhere in South Sudan.
“These satellite calls help IDPs to talk with their families across conflict frontlines”, says Gregory Balke, UNHCR Assistant Representative for Protection in South Sudan. “People are also discovering family members they thought were killed in the civil conflict”, he says.
UNHCR has so far facilitated more than 110 satellite calls helping displaced families restore contact with their relatives amongst four of South Sudan’s ten states. Each family is provided with a ten-minute time slot, with UNHCR personnel supervising at both ends. Additional time is made available to traditional chiefs and women’s representatives to enable them to discuss humanitarian needs.
“It was a great relief to learn that my wife and children were all right”, says South Sudanese James, who had no news of his family since the start of the conflict. Like many of his compatriots who were suddenly forced to flee for their lives in December 2013, James spent days and sleepless nights imagining the worst. “But now that I have talked to my family I am no longer worried”, he says. “I forgot all the sadness of the past eighteen months.”
For UNHCR staff, this has been a heartbreaking but also heartwarming experience. “One man sang a church hymn of joy over the phone to his family members to reassure them he was indeed alive”, says Jack Tut, a Programme expert with UNHCR. “There are no words to describe the joy that a simple call can bring into one’s life”, he says. “When you see a big, sudden smile behind that phone, then you’ll understand that’s the voice one had been waiting to hear in a long time.”
Since the conflict erupted in South Sudan in December 2013, approximately 2 million people have been driven from their homes within and outside the country. Many families have been separated in the rush to flee. Amid ongoing civil conflict, some have managed to stay in touch with their families and home communities, while the vast majority still lacks the means to make contact with family members who have fled to isolated rural areas with no little or no phone coverage.