South Sudan’s political crisis, which started in December 2013, has uprooted over 875 000 people from their homes. A ceasefire was signed recently but continued clashes are reported and humanitarian organisations are not reaching many in need of help due to insecurity.
11/02/2014 – For Mawut, who lives in a refugee settlement in Adjumani, it is clear, “This is politics. The men know this.” he tells me, adding “But the women and children.” he pauses “they will fight it out and bring [their] differences here into the settlement.”
Mawut, a 23 year old South Sudanese refugee is talking about the political crisis in his country which has been marked by wide-spread abuses against civilians on the basis of political affiliation with ethnic undertones.
He recently fled the fighting in Bor town, Jonglei and crossed the border into northern Uganda with his family. Only his father decided to stay there. We are discussing the number of times he has been uprooted from his home in his lifetime. He tells me, this is the third time his family has had to flee. The first was in 1991, when he was only ten years old.
In his impeccable English, Mawut who was educated in Kenya’s Kakuma refugee camp, translates for his sister Diing Mangar. Child on hip, Diing explains that they were ‘chased out’ of Bor town in Jonglei in spite of having history there.
Diing has also fled conflict a few times, she explains: “The first was in 1991, then in 2004 and now.”
In the same day, I meet Nhial who is 21, he escaped from Juba with some of his family, others are still taking refuge in the UN compound in Juba. Nhial is waiting to move into a refugee settlement in Kiryandongo in central Uganda.
Originally from Malakal, in South Sudan’s Upper Nile region, Nhial and his family have lived in Juba for over 8 years. “We had hopes for our new country.” he explains “We voted and now we were targeted and hunted down.”
Anne Sophie Laenkholm is the protection adviser for the European Commission’s Humanitarian aid and Civil Protection department (ECHO). She has just come back from Juba and elaborates “Men are often more vulnerable when fleeing in these sorts of context because they can be recruited to fight and because they can be perceived as fighters because they are men.”
Nhial continues “When we were in Malakal, we were displaced a couple of times and we moved within Upper Nile state – but this is the first time from Juba. My grandmother and sisters have been to Uganda before, seeking help, this is my first time here.”
Nhial’s native home, Malakal in Upper Nile, has been the site of violence and lootings also of humanitarian goods. This, in spite of a recent agreement to cease hostilities signed in Addis Ababa by government and opposition forces.
According to the United Nations, some 875 000 South Sudanese have now been uprooted from their homes by the conflict in the last weeks. Of these, nearly 740 000 within South Sudan’s vast borders and over 135 000 seeking refuge in neighbouring countries. Humanitarian aid agencies are struggling to provide clean water, basic shelter, medicine, and food to the increasing numbers of destitute families.
Both Mawut and Nhial, point the finger at ‘them’ – the other ethnic group – as the problem and the reason for their displacement. Both have the emotional scars to prove it; lost family members and assets.
“The conflict has divided the country. There have been atrocities committed by all communities. It will take time to heal,” says Laenkholm.
The South Sudanese parents that I met are tired of fleeing their homes with nothing and rely, once again, on hand outs. The young and the youth pleaded for and simply want uninterrupted education. The elderly craved peace after decades of struggle. For all of them, the wounds of the trauma are fresh and their healing depends on political will. There are high hopes for this fledgling country to cease hostilities and reconcile the differences between different communities.
One community already took matters in their own hands. Laenkholm explains: “While in Juba, I heard about women from the two different communities who got together, met the local in charge and took to the streets protesting against the violence against civilians and asking for a cessation.”
Malini Morzaria, ECHO Regional Information Officer for Central East and Southern Africa.