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"Now There is Nothing": Testimonies from Refugees in South Sudan
March 13, 2012
South Sudan 2012 © Robin Meldrum
Since November, some 80,000 refugees from Sudan’s Blue Nile State have sought shelter in two camps located in a remote and barren region of South Sudan where humanitarian organizations are confronting massive logistic challenges to access and assist them. Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has been running a substantial emergency response, focusing on providing medical care in the camps and in mobile clinics to villages along the border with Sudan, where several thousand more refugees are gathered.
Below are testimonies gathered from refugees in the Doro and Jamam refugee camps, where people have sought some modicum of sanctuary but have instead found an unforgiving environment that threatens their health and well-being, and possibly their lives.
Young woman in Jamam who crossed the border only a few days after giving birth:
We are really in a bad situation here. We have just arrived and we have no food, no soap for washing. The situation just gets worse. Since we cannot waste anything, we eat only once a day where we used to eat three times. We skip meals or others help us out.
My husband has never seen his child. As we fled, we stopped in the village of my parents. There was no midwife and the conditions were poor. I had my daughter and we started to run again, two or three days later.
At the beginning, we all ran around in different directions to seek safety. Finally we found each other again and we decided to come here together. First we hid in the bush, then we travelled until we got here to Jamam.
As we fled, a bomb fell about 50 meters from me on a group of people. Once a bomb falls, you have to lie low, but people panic and run and are wounded. Since I’ve crossed the border, I feel better.
We are safe from bombs here across the border. And now that we are no longer running to save our lives, we can think about our hunger, about all the necessities like soap for washing, clothes and food. For now, I have no ideas for the future, just sending the children to school and working to make sure I can feed them.
Man at El Fuj, a border crossing point near Jamam:
There was fighting and no one could help us. We hid in the bush and survived by sneaking out and found food in the houses that had been left behind. After eight or nine days, we left our home and the fighting behind. We never felt safe. We could never stop because Antonovs [airplanes often used for aerial bombardment] could pass above us.
Even if we were tired, we could not stop. We hid among the trees alongside rivers. If the rivers ran dry, we might try to dig to find water for two or three hours without finding anything. The children would get sick in the heat. We wanted to escape as fast as possible with the children. We left 12 people behind along the road who fell sick and could no longer walk. We hope to travel on to Jamam where our family and our animals are.
South Sudan 2012 © Robin Meldrum
Woman in Jamam:
There is hunger here because there is not enough food. If children are sick, it’s even worse as the children are malnourished. For myself, the fact is that we manage to eat because I have a job, but everyone else is suffering. Surviving in this camp is not easy.
There is also a lot of confusion here because of water. The women wait for a long time to fill their jerry cans. The children fight over water. There is water, but just not enough for all these people.
We fled the first fighting, still in the rainy season. We didn’t know something was going to happen. I used to work in a clinic and suddenly our salaries were no longer paid. Along the way, we were moving, but we could not race along. It took us over two weeks to escape. People were moving slowly, by day and night.
We drank water from the rivers. In those days, we walked without even changing our clothes. Many people got sick along the way, especially of malaria. I had brought a box of injectable quinine, so I used to try to treat the children. Sometimes it didn’t work, and finally the drugs I had ran out and I could no longer help. As we fled, we passed through villages that were half-empty. Some of them had already fled, but others fled with us when they saw us running.
Once we arrived in El Fuj, we were safe. We stayed there two or three weeks. For the first time, people started to feel the pains they had not felt so far because they were so concentrated on running and saving their lives.
Amani, who brought her daughter Harrap to the field hospital in Jamam for treatment:
The rainy season is coming. And the place we are living, it looks like it will be in the water. We need to find another place. I know this soil, and when the rains come this will be a swamp, this will be filled with water… This is a bad place.
My daughter has diarrhea with blood. This problem has been going on for a long time now. It first started in the middle of the fighting. So now she has been ill for a long time. When the fighting started, there was no way for us to get treatment. We were just running, running, always running, until we got here. This is the first time I have been able to get some medical care for her. MSF is the first treatment we have got.
We have been here for 12 days. When you go to the water point to collect water, you have to stay for a long time. And so then you go to one of the ponds to get the water there. We are new, we have only just arrived, so we do not know really what is going on.
Since we arrived, we are still just sitting under a tree. We have no tent or shelter.
If NGOs want to come here to help us, please do, because now there is nothing. They have taken our names and marked us in a book, but no result, we have not received anything.
Jahra Farjahlla, whose 10-year-old son Yussuf was transferred by MSF ambulance from the border-crossing at El Fuj to Jamam:
Yussuf is in a lot of pain. When we came here we walked very far, walking walking. And Yussuf has a bad fever. We got to El Fuj [the border crossing point] two days ago.
I feel more happy here in Jamam because I have not heard the "tak-tak-tak" sound of guns. Before, it was different; always the Antonovs moving over us. Every time we heard the sound of a plane we would start running. And the sounds of guns. Now that I don’t hear them, I can sleep normally. I can be at rest.
They came and attacked our homes. They came and they started shooting with guns. And they killed a lot of people. It was very dangerous for us, so we ran away from our home.
Many of us fled, and still many are on the way and have not arrived here yet. Many people, they are coming, they are coming. If you sent a big truck, they would not fit in, not even in two or three trucks. To fit all these people you would need ten big trucks.
I have other children who are still in El Fuj. If my son Yussuf is better, I will leave him here and I will send word back to El Fuj to my other children that they should come here. I do not want to go back home.
South Sudan 2012 © Robin Meldrum
Younassa Lifa Lenya, a refugee now employed as a nurse in the MSF field hospital in Doro:
I am a nurse in the clinic. I come from Blue Nile and I am now living in Doro camp. I have been here now for about four months.
One of our big challenges will be the rainy season. I hope we will be ready, because I know this place and it will be difficult.
Back in Blue Nile State I used to be a community health worker with another NGO. I was in Kurmuk. I think for the people who are still in Blue Nile State, the health situation must be very difficult for them. Everyone has run away from Blue Nile State, so there are no doctors or nurses left.
When I moved with my family from Kurmuk to Doro camp, it was very difficult. The journey was all by foot and it was very bad. We spent something like 30 days on the way here. And there was no food on the way for us to eat.
Before, I was also a refugee in Ethiopia. It was a long time ago and there were many of us. We spent something like 20 years there as refugees. After that, we came back to Blue Nile and now again we are here in Doro camp, because of this new fighting in Blue Nile State.
For the refugees living all around me in Doro, there is not enough water for everyone. It is my wife who collects the water. When she goes in the morning, sometimes she can wait till evening before she gets any water. Every time she comes back and she tells me about how she had to quarrel with other women about the water.
We are receiving food in the distributions, but it is not enough. There are people who have been going back to Blue Nile to harvest the sorghum, because there is not enough here for them to eat. But this is not good. It is very dangerous.
Now that the sorghum harvest has finished, I think there could be a very big problem. We could have big problems of hunger in the camp. The sorghum that people have been bringing back has been keeping us alive until now. But from now on, we need the humanitarians to bring in food.
In the rainy season, there will be problems because there is no space for us refugees to cultivate with our own hands, so we cannot look after ourselves. We will have food problems here.