In a refugee camp in South Sudan, a new arrival and new hopes

News Stories, 27 June 2013

© UNHCR/L.Isla
Marioma and her new-born daughter are among some 1,700 refugees now living in the Ajuong Thok camp in South Sudan. UNHCR hopes that as word of the services available at the camp spreads, more families will relocate from another overcrowded settlement.

AJUONG THOK, South Sudan, June 27 (UNHCR) Marioma Anur has still not decided on a name for her week-old daughter, but she already has a clear aspiration for the infant: she wants her to be get an education.

Last week, Marioma became the first refugee in the Ajuong Thok camp in South Sudan to give birth. The June 19 delivery took place in a clinic in the camp operated by the International Rescue Committee, a UNHCR partner, where staff had previously helped three women from the local host community to also give birth to healthy babies.

Marioma and her husband, Kambala, fled their village in neighbouring Sudan in April to escape fighting between government and rebel forces. Months of bombardments and food shortages had left the couple fearing for their lives and those of their three children. Safety, they had heard, could be found across the border.

Leaving their children in the care of their grandmother, the couple set off on a two-day walk to South Sudan. When they arrived at the Yida refugee settlement in Unity state, UNHCR staff told them about the food rations and assistance available at the Ajuong Thok camp.

The camp was opened three months ago to ease overcrowding in the Yida settlement, which was spontaneously created by refugees escaping violence in Sudan in 2011. Now home to more than 70,000 people, Yida is also close to a contested and militarized border and is considered by the government of South Sudan and UNHCR to be unsuitable as a refugee camp.

Refugees living in Yida have been encouraged to move to Ajuong Thok, where there are schools and medical clinics as well as sufficient land to allow families to grow some of their own food. Refugees were initially reluctant to move, but as word spread of the services available in the new camp a growing number of people relocated. The population of Ajuong Thok is now more than 1,700.

"Ajuong Thok is a well-established refugee camp, which provides a safe environment where UNHCR can ensure better protection and higher standard of services available such as education and livelihoods," said Serge Berthomieu, UNHCR's officer-in-charge in Yida. "The increase in the number of refugees moving to the new camp shows that information about Ajuong Thok is spreading, and we would expect higher numbers in the following months."

When Marioma and her husband arrived in Ajuong Thok, she was diagnosed as being severely malnourished. The couple received emergency food rations and Marioma was provided with supplementary feeding through a nutrition programme run by a UNHCR partner. The couple were assigned a plot of land, shelter materials and other relief items.

"I am grateful for the support I received in this camp. I was not able to bring anything from our home, and everything we have here was given to us by humanitarian agencies," Marioma told UNHCR staff.

Her husband plans to grow vegetables with seeds he received from another UNHCR partner and, with the family now safely established in South Sudan, will soon return to his village to collect the couple's other children.

Like the more than 300 children who regularly attend primary school in Ajuong Thok, Marioma is determined that her daughter will also receive an education.

The family recently received a visit from Magdalia, the first refugee woman to arrive in Ajuong Thok, She now serves as a member of the refugee committee and is active in encouraging refugees to establish community support mechanisms in the new site.

Inspired by Magdalia's role, Marioma considered a bright future for her daughter. "Maybe, in some years, she will also be a woman leader."

By Lorena Isla in Ajuong Thok, South Sudan




UNHCR country pages

South Sudan Crisis: Urgent Appeal

Donate now and help to provide emergency aid to tens of thousands of people fleeing South Sudan to escape violence.

Donate to this crisis

Bonga Camp, Ethiopia

Bonga camp is located in the troubled Gambella region of western Ethiopia. But it remains untouched by the ethnic conflicts that have torn nearby Gambella town and Fugnido camp in the last year.

For Bonga's 17,000 Sudanese refugees, life goes on despite rumblings in the region. Refugee children continue with school and play while their parents make ends meet by supplementing UNHCR assistance with self-reliance projects.

Cultural life is not forgotten, with tribal ceremonies by the Uduk majority. Other ethnic communities – Shuluks, Nubas and Equatorians – are welcome too, judging by how well hundreds of newcomers have settled in after their transfer from Fugnido camp in late 2002.

Bonga Camp, Ethiopia

Southerners on the move before Sudanese vote

Ahead of South Sudan's landmark January 9, 2011 referendum on independence, tens of thousands of southern Sudanese in the North packed their belongings and made the long trek south. UNHCR set up way stations at key points along the route to provide food and shelter to the travellers during their arduous journey. Several reports of rapes and attacks on travellers reinforced the need for these reception centres, where women, children and people living with disabilities can spend the night. UNHCR has made contingency plans in the event of mass displacement after the vote, including the stockpiling of shelter and basic provisions for up to 50,000 people.

Southerners on the move before Sudanese vote

South Sudan: Preparing for Long-Awaited Returns

The signing of a peace agreement between the Sudanese government and the army of the Sudanese People's Liberation Movement on 9 January, 2005, ended 21 years of civil war and signaled a new era for southern Sudan. For some 4.5 million uprooted Sudanese – 500,000 refugees and 4 million internally displaced people – it means a chance to finally return home.

In preparation, UNHCR and partner agencies have undertaken, in various areas of South Sudan, the enormous task of starting to build some basic infrastructure and services which either were destroyed during the war or simply had never existed. Alongside other UN agencies and NGOs, UNHCR is also putting into place a wide range of programmes to help returnees re-establish their lives.

These programs include road construction, the building of schools and health facilities, as well as developing small income generation programmes to promote self-reliance.

South Sudan: Preparing for Long-Awaited Returns

South Sudan: Four Years On from IndependencePlay video

South Sudan: Four Years On from Independence

In 2011 the people of South Sudan celebrated their independence. Four years later, the world's newest nation is one of the world's worst humanitarian situations. In December 2013, conflict erupted displacing 2 million people including more than 600,000 refugees. South Sudanese has fled to Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, and Sudan. The crisis has especially impacted the next generation of South Sudanese, 70% of those displaced are children.
South Sudan Crisis: One Year OnPlay video

South Sudan Crisis: One Year On

Uganda: A Father's TroublesPlay video

Uganda: A Father's Troubles

Forty-five-year-old Gabriel fled South Sudan with his wife and children to find safety in the UN compound in Bor. But, in April 2014, his wife was killed when an armed mob forced their way in, and now he is a single father to five children, seeking a better life in Uganda.