South Sudan refugees370.
(photo credit: Courtesy Orit Marom )
Ophelie Namiech, an Israeli aid worker who was airlifted from South Sudan following an outbreak of violence in the fledgling nation’s capital, told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday that she feels guilty for leaving her local colleagues behind.
“Everybody wanted to go out we were really lucky to be on this plane,” Namiech, a French-Israeli volunteer with IsraAID, said. “In one way I’m happy I got out... but on the other hand now that I’m back to Israel I’m feeling kind of guilty to have left my local team and my local colleagues because they are all very afraid. No one knows what is going to happen.”
IsraAID runs programs in the South Sudanese capital of Juba focused on gender, social development and security sector reform. South Sudan and Israel have some defense and trade ties. In recent weeks, IsraAID has been active in the Philippines in the wake of Typhoon Haiyan.
Earlier this week, the NGO suspended its operations in the country and went on lockdown after Salva Kiir, the president of South Sudan, announced that he had put down the coup attempt by soldiers loyal to former vice president Riek Machar, whom Kiir dismissed over the summer. Intense fighting followed the coup attempt.
South Sudan became an independent country in July 2011.
Namiech, who spent several days hiding in a hotel in the capital, wrote in an open letter distributed to the press earlier this week that while nighttime gunfire is “usual business in Juba,” Sunday’s battles were “not the usual gun shots between isolated gang groups, but heavy artillery, that sounded like fireworks, going on all night.”
“From time to time, especially during the daytime, we could hear people screaming,” she recalled. “It sounded like we were in the middle of a war zone. Immediately, we thought of a coup d’état, in a country where political tensions have been escalating for the past few months.”
Echoing statements by IsraAID founder Shachar Zahavi, Namiech told the Post that she “definitely” intends on returning to South Sudan.
“The only reason I came back now is because I’m going for Christmas break to my family in France and there is no way I’m going to miss my family reunion,” she explained. “Otherwise, if it was another time, I would have stayed with my local [team] to provide some sort of moral support. I’ve been there for two years... it’s like my second home [and] I felt really guilty to leave like this.”
There are “still four or five” Israelis left in Juba out of a prerevolution total of nine, Namiech said. Those remaining “are supposed to leave on Saturday.”JTA contributed to this report.