Kins of missing persons cling to hopes of reunion decades on

Kins of missing persons cling to hopes of reunion decades on
Vice President for Gender and Youth Cluster, Rebecca Nyandeng (Centre) adressingthe press at Juba International Airpot. [Photo: Mamer Abraham, City Review]

Priscilla Dudu Yosepa lives each day with the eternal hope that one day she will be able to reunite with her brother while still alive.

 It is a wish that has stuck in her heart since the 1990s and earned her the position of being a representative of families of missing persons, who fight off uncertainty amidst a frantic search for their lost kin.  

Yosepa narrated her ordeal during an event organised by the ICRC to commemorate the International Day of the Disappeared on Tuesday in Juba.

She recounted how she last saw her brother over two decades ago. But she still dares to dream of an emotional reunion. 

“We are traumatised,” she said. For her, the civil war punished her family dearly. She also lost a brother, husband, and son during the wars.

“Though the unanswered questions about the whereabouts of our loved ones are unbearable, I am optimistic because I have not seen the bones or the grave of my brother up to date.” 

Numbers overwhelming

Since independence, and following the December 2013 crisis, the International Community of the Red Cross (ICRC) has recorded over 5,700 cases of missing persons. The body argued that this number was just “a drop in the ocean”.

Most of the disappearance factors, according to the ICRC, included armed conflict, inter-communal violence, abduction, natural disaster, forced disappearance, migration, and lack of proper management of the dead. 

“All these factors [above] lead to the separation of families and people going unaccounted for,’’ said Pierre Dorbes, the ICRC South Sudan Head of Delegation.

 “Today, over 5700 cases of missing persons are being followed up by the ICRC delegations together with the South Sudan Red Cross Society.”

 “However, this figure does not reflect the scale of missing persons in South Sudan. In reality, most disappearances are not registered or documented.” 

In the last two years, the ICRC together with the South Sudan Red Cross, have clarified the fate of 979 missing persons in the country and supported 42 families’ unifications.

But Mr. Dorbes said, “The needs and challenges faced by the families of missing persons are complex and require comprehensive approaches from the side of the state authorities as well as the continuous commitment and coordination of all actors involved.” 

“It is the state authorities that bear the primary responsibility to clarify the fate and whereabouts of missing persons. They need to address the needs of these families and prevent forced disappearances in the future,” said Mr. Dorbes. 

The government committed

Speaking at the event, the Vice President of Youth and Gender Cluster, Rebecca Nyandeng, said the government will address the fate of thousands of people still missing since the end of the war of liberation in 2005.

She said the government will cooperate with the stakeholders to ensure families of missing persons know the fate of their loved ones.

“It is very hard for families to reckon with the disappearance of their loved ones.” I would like to tell those families who suffer under the wave of so many unanswered questions, that they are not alone,” Nyandeng said. 

“We would like to assure our commitment to work with the ICRC, national and international NGOs, and line ministries to ensure that more is done because this issue of disappearance started a long time ago,” she added.