The US embassy in South Sudan says it helped more than 40 South Sudanese, half of whom hold American dual citizenships, fly out of troubled country over the weekend.
All 42 have lived in a United Nations-run Protection of Civilians Camp in Juba since July, when fighting broke out in the capital. They were too afraid to leave because they were affiliated with ousted former First Vice President Riek Machar. The men, women and children boarded a chartered flight to Cyprus on Saturday, officials said.
U.S. Ambassador Molly Phee said the embassy began providing support when it learned that its citizens were in the IDP camp, but that the process of facilitating their departure proved complicated.
“They didn’t have their paperwork so we needed to get passports and visas when necessary,” said Phee, adding that they were working with five different government bureaucracies.
Some of the men had been in the country for years, while others came to Juba after the August 2015 peace deal was signed as part of Machar’s advance team. When violence broke out in the capital, some of them said they were left with no choice but to flee to the camp.
With help from Canada, Phee said all 42 were able to fly to Cyprus, where they took commercial flights to their home countries.
However, some men could not wait for the help of diplomatic channels to find their way out of South Sudan.
Butros Chany Teny, a dual Australian national, was smuggled out of South Sudan in January with the help of a friend in South Sudan’s national security service. Chany eventually made it to Kampala, Uganda.
Chany said he felt trapped in the camp because he supported Machar.
“You cannot be a supporter and sympathizer of Machar and then walk in Juba freely. This is impossible. Unless you do that underground,” Chany said.
Chol Lam, a spokesperson for First Vice President Taban Deng Gai, who was appointed by President Salva Kiir after Machar fled the country, said they were in the camp for ‘political motivations’.
“If we had any issues with any of the members, they would have been questioned,” said Lam. “But none of that happened. They came out of the POC into one bus and straight to the airport and got their passports stamped.”
Lam said the government helped the 42 South Sudanese board the bus that drove them to Juba International Airport.
At least six of the 42 did not hold dual citizenship, according to Lam.