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As groups and individuals continue to appear on social media flouting isolation, protesting lock downs and complaining about wearing a mask, a local South Sudanese migrant has put things into perspective for any would-be COVID restriction critics. Juma Piri Piri moved to Launceston from South Sudan (formerly Sudan) in 2006. He is now president of the Federation of Equatoria Association in Australia. South Sudan and its people have not had prolonged peace for decades, with wars of secession from Sudan and civil strife between various tribal groups and rebel forces continuing to plague the nation. The decades of fighting has cost millions of lives. Mr Piri Piri left Sudan during the civil war between Sudanese armed forces and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army seeking secession. He said between government and rebel forces, civilians had no freedom and lived in fear of persecution from either group. “At anytime the government would go to areas in Khartoum [capital of Sudan] and take people, especially men were targeted and deemed as rebels … once you were captured you would probably never make it back,” Mr Piri Piri said. On the side of the rebels, SPLA soldiers would enforce conscription on unwilling civilians. “At times they [SPLA] would come to your house; if you had two boys they would take them all and not say anything – that’s how soldiers were recruited,” Mr Piri Piri said. Nowadays, South Sudan remains in strife as the government struggles to maintain peace. “In my view there’s no peace there at the moment. Peace means freedom where people can do what they enjoy doing,” Mr Piri Piri said. Mr Piri Piri said villages in South Sudan are being raided and deserted on an almost daily basis – Human Rights Watch statistics show about four million people have become displaced due to wars in South Sudan. “This is happening everyday … there were villages close to Juba [capital of South Sudan] in Central Equatoria, around 10 villages were burnt down,” Mr Piri Piri said. Mr Piri Piri said there was some debate about who was sowing conflict in South Sudan, with many illegal mining companies tied to the government claiming forfeited land. “In most instances they’ve [rebels] been blamed … perhaps if you talk to them they’ll have a different version of the story … people rebel for a reason, maybe they’re being persecuted,” he said. “There’s no reason to butcher your own people … it’s not clear who’s responsible.” This continued strife has lead to continued abductions and arrests of men, women and children. “People disappear in Juba day and night, but there’s never really justice for anyone killed either by the National Security Agency or other groups,” Mr Piri Piri said. With, anti-coronavirus restriction incidents continuing to occur across Australia, protesters continue to fight against the loss of freedom. This includes outbreak-ridden Melbourne where police continue to arrest anti-lockdown protesters, and videos circulate social media of those against the wearing of masks, complaining of alleged human rights infringements. Some, including Victorian Liberal minister Tim Smith, have even referred to Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews as ‘Dictator Dan’. Even Tasmania is not free from people floating the state of emergency laws, with police continuing to issue non-compliance fines for those returning from overseas who flout quarantine. Mr Piri Piri said it was important that people understood the reasoning for COVID restrictions. “We [Australians] generally like to complain to be honest … we never appreciate what is good for us, the only time we get to appreciate is when we visit other places that give us an opportunity to know how privileged we are,” he said. “Once we know this, we should be able to appreciate that this [restrictions] is actually a good thing for us to do, it’s the responsible thing to do.” Given the decades of war South Sudan has experienced, Mr Piri Piri said provided the Australian community can work together, months under tough restrictions would be overcome. “It’s hard to accept that it’s happening because we’ve [Australia] never felt we would have a situation like this on our hands – we need to have a different mindset that it’s okay to adhere to government restrictions,” he said. As someone who’s no stranger to conflict, Mr Piri Piri said blaming one another would not help matters, and said everyone has a shared eagerness to return to enjoying life. “It’s not a matter of blaming a person … when we focus more on blaming than looking into the real issue that we have a pandemic on our hands: lets deal with it as a community to address the problems,” he said. “Together, we can make things better and life can get back to normal more quickly but if we don’t do that it’s going to take longer.”



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