An official with the French charity ACTED has confirmed that many internally displaced persons (IDPs) angry over not meeting U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Nikki Haley, last week destroyed the agency’s office inside the camp.
ACTED country director Robert Simpson said his staff has not been able to access the camp since the incident took place due to security concerns.
IDPs accused ACTED staff of denying them the chance to meet Ambassador Haley in person last Wednesday during her visit to the camp.
Simpson said his agency, which manages the U.N. Protection Of Civilians (POC) site in Juba, was only responsible for facilitating Haley’s brief visit to the camp and had little control over who she saw or when she left the camp.
“After a certain amount of time and the trip already coming to a close, the decision was taken by the embassy to remove Ambassador Haley so that she could make the flight out of South Sudan. Following her departure there were some ACTED staff and US embassy staff who remained in the POC and as a result of the demonstration becoming a little more agitated and making some threats made to staff, it was necessary to remove the staff we had present at the POC from that environment,” Simpson told South Sudan in Focus on Tuesday.
He said after Haley and ACTED personnel left the scene, ACTED’s office was destroyed by demonstrators.
Simpson told VOA he understands that many IDPs wanted to meet Haley in person and express their concerns.
“There’s always interest when an outsider with influence enters this environment and with such a large camp and so many people wanting to express certain opinions and a limited time available during the schedule, it’s possible that there were frustrations around not being able to communicate all the things that wanted to be communicated,” Simpson said.
But Simpson denied accusations made by some IDPs last week that ACTED brought a woman from outside the camp to speak with Haley rather than allow her to meet IDPs living inside the camp who were dressed shabbily and had grievances.
While Simpson said that was not the case, he admits that IDPs have “legitimate grievances” about their living conditions at the camp, “some of which were directly related to the visit of Ambassador Haley and others were completely unrelated to the visit of Ambassador Haley.”
He called it “regrettable” that people who had opinions they wanted to share with Haley “may not have got the chance to address those opinions directly.”
As the camp management agency, Simpson said it is ACTED’s responsibility to listen those grievances “and also work to resolve them.”
“Unfortunately, the method of airing those grievances chosen was a violent demonstration and destruction of property, so it becomes so complicated for us now to address those grievances directly,” Simpson said.
Since Wednesday’s violent demonstration and looting, ACTED has talked to UN officials, donors, and other partners to resolve the situation and will soon talk with IDPS to resolve the issue.
“We are very willing to engage in a direct dialogue to explain very clearly what we had control over and what we didn’t and also trying to remove ourselves from any allegation of not wanting to facilitate this visit,” said Simpson.
He added that ACTED’s main priority now is to rebuild relationships that have been damaged with those in the camp in the safest way possible and the French charity will ask for a complete list of the grievances the IDPs have and work hard to address them.