Juba (AFP) – Hundreds of uprooted South Sudanese students missed taking school-leaving exams this week after refusing a government order to leave the safety of a UN base to sit the tests.
Officials said nearly 900 students declined to leave the so-called “Protection of Civilians” (PoC) site inside a fortified UN base in the capital Juba to take the exam that is a prerequisite for a university place.
Thuk Bentiu, 23, said he and fellow students would not leave the camp “because of insecurity”.
Many of the students have sheltered in the UN base since civil war began in December 2013, sparked by a dispute between President Salva Kiir and his rival Riek Machar.
The conflict quickly took on an ethnic character pitting Kiir’s Dinkas against Machar’s Nuer.
Most of those living in the camp are members of the Nuer or other minority ethnic groups while the Dinka-dominated government and security forces control the capital.
Hundreds of civilians were killed in the most recent major outbreak of violence in the city last July.
“We could not trust going outside the PoC camp,” said Bentiu, who completed his secondary education in the camp and dreams of studying agriculture at university.
“If we had a government that protected us outside there, our people would not have been killed and we would not have run to the PoC.”
Bentiu reached the Juba camp days after the outbreak of civil war, escaping from government soldiers who had already killed some of his relatives.
Nationwide exams for the South Sudan Certificate of Education began this week for around 20,000 students but many of those worst-hit by the conflict feel disenfranchised.
“It is very unfortunate that those of us who are survivors are told to come and sit examinations outside,” said Bentiu. “Who will be liable for us if we go missing?”
Nearly 40,000 uprooted people live in the Juba camp. Gatwot Matai, head teacher at one of three secondary schools set up there, said they had prepared 965 students to sit the exams but only 70 had dared to leave to take the tests.
Matai said the education ministry gave no explanation when it issued an order last week that all students must sit their exams outside the UN base.
Contacted by AFP, South Sudan’s National Secretary for Examinations, Lul Ruei Dhol, said, “We are working on a solution” but gave no further details.