10 years later and millions of South Sudanese remain displaced.

Dhoal Gatwich Gatjani walks to school past the market in the Bentiu campDhoal Gatwich Gatjani walks to school past the market in the Bentiu camp

The night after he watched government-allied forces burn his village to the ground, Dhoal Gatwich Gatjani gathered his family and started walking north. He had heard that a United Nations base was offering protection.

As civil war devastated the country in the years that followed, Gatjani and his family were among the 108,000 people who built a life in what became South Sudans  largest camp for internally displaced people. Inside the barbed-wire fences of the camp in Bentiu, UN soldiers in guard towers provided a measure of comfort.

Then one day this spring, nearly seven years after he arrived, Gatjani looked up and saw that the towers were empty – the UN troops were gone, unable to guard the maze of shelters indefinitely. Replacing them, he soon learned, would be a new police force made up of officers loyal to the two political parties whose fighting had led him here: both the one that he supported, and the one that had sent him running for his life.

“Those who displaced us, who burned down our villages,” the 40-year-old father said, “are the ones who are now supposed to be protecting us?”

As South Sudan marks the 10th anniversary of its independence, the world’s youngest country is at a crossroads. Violence remains so entrenched, even though the civil war technically ended in 2018, that Gatjani is among 1.6 million people who have been internally displaced, with 2.3 million more in neighbouring countries.

Frustrated by the lack of progress in a country where two-thirds of residents rely on humanitarian aid, the international community is reassessing the amount of help it can give South Sudan. Donor countries, hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, have decreased funding, and UN protection forces have shifted from displacement camps to the country’s conflict hot spots. Lawmakers in Washington are calling for an overhaul of US policy on South Sudan, which receives about $1bn (£750m) in US aid annually.

“Those who displaced us, who burned down our villages,” the 40-year-old father said, “are the ones who are now supposed to be protecting us?”

As South Sudan marks the 10th anniversary of its independence, the world’s youngest country is at a crossroads. Violence remains so entrenched, even though the civil war technically ended in 2018, that Gatjani is among 1.6 million people who have been internally displaced, with 2.3 million more in neighbouring countries.

Frustrated by the lack of progress in a country where two-thirds of residents rely on humanitarian aid, the international community is reassessing the amount of help it can give South Sudan. Donor countries, hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, have decreased funding, and UN protection forces have shifted from displacement camps to the country’s conflict hot spots. Lawmakers in Washington are calling for an overhaul of US policy on South Sudan, which receives about $1bn (£750m) in US aid annually.

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