• Text size Normal size text | Increase text size by 10% | Increase text size by 20% | Increase text size by 30%

South Sudanese man becomes "refugee" on his own doorstep

Telling the Human Story, 2 January 2014

© UNHCR/ K.McKinsey
Chuol lies on a mattress in his family's makeshift shelter at the UN Mission in South Sudan base in Juba's Tong Ping area. His face has been obscured for protection reasons.

JUBA, South Sudan, January 2 (UNHCR) Chuol lies on a foam mattress in a makeshift camp inside a UN compound, only four kilometres from his own home, nursing a bullet wound to his ankle.

"It's very painful," says the father of nine, here with 17 members of his extended family. "But what shall we do? If we go outside, people will kill me."

Chuol, 37, says he was wounded on December 15, the day violence broke out in South Sudan, the world's newest country. A market vendor, he and his family lived in the Gudele district, epicentre of the violence in South Sudan's capital, Juba.

Fighting has since spread to seven of the country's 10 states, displacing more than 180,000 people within the country. They include some 14,000 people who have set up a makeshift camp in the grounds of a UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) military base in Juba's Tong Ping area.

Chuol says when gunfire broke out, he ran in one direction, his wife and children in another and his brother in yet a third. Unlike others in the makeshift camp in the Tong Ping base mostly from the Nuer tribe and perceived to be supporters of former Vice President Riek Machar Lam does not blame ethnic tension.

South Sudan's President Salva Kiir says Machar has launched a rebellion; other observers say a political struggle between the country's two top figures has descended into violence between the two largest tribes, the Dinka and the Nuer.

"They were shooting in my area, but I don't know why," says Chuol, adding that he thought the conflict would be confined to military forces, "but the fighting spread to civilians."

Someone took aim at him as he fled for the bush, and a bullet pierced his right ankle. He later managed to dig out the bullet, but says the bones were shattered. Pointing to his swollen ankle, Chuol says he believed he would be killed if he sought treatment in a government hospital.

So he sent his wife and children to seek sanctuary at Tong Ping and stayed behind because he could not walk. It was only four days later that some kind strangers came to his home with a car and brought him to the camp. Leaning on a stick, he hobbled from the entrance to where his wife had fashioned a lean-to for the family against a shipping container.

Fellow market vendors gave the family some cooking pots and the mattress on which Chuol now passes his days in pain. (After the interview, a UNHCR staff member referred him for medical treatment.)

UNMISS soldiers, in the country to protect civilians, suddenly found themselves host to some 14,000 unexpected guests. UNHCR and its partners have been working closely with the soldiers, helping acquaint them with humanitarian principles such as neutrality, and making sure the displaced people inside the compound are adequately protected.

The UN refugee agency and its partners are also working to identify children on their own, reunify them with their families if possible, and find them temporary living quarters in the meantime.

Inside the compound, businesses are popping up a tiny market stall and kiosks for charging mobile phones and after two weeks, a siege mentality is taking hold. "If we go outside to buy something, people can shoot," says Chuol.

Peter Trotter, UNHCR's senior protection officer in South Sudan, confirms that the refugee agency has received many credible reports of people being targeted for their ethnicity in Juba and in other parts of the country.

"The consistency and repetition of the stories leads us to believe they're true combined with what we ourselves saw in the days after the conflict," says Trotter.

Chuol who had never been a refugee during the 22-year north-south war that led to independence from Sudan in 2011 certainly did not expect to be a refugee in all but name just an hour's walk from his own home.

But now, he says, his family has lost everything. When he emerged from the bush after the shooting stopped, he says he counted 17 bodies of friends and neighbours. He found his house had been stripped of furniture and all the family's clothes, the stock for his business looted.

After that trauma, his huge family does not expect to leave this makeshift camp any time soon. "What shall we do? We are all suffering," says Chuol. "We will stay here until God will show us the future."

By Kitty McKinsey in Juba, 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

Internally Displaced People

The internally displaced seek safety in other parts of their country, where they need help.

Related Internet Links

UNHCR is not responsible for the content and availability of external internet sites

Displaced in North Kivu: A Life on the Run

Fighting rages on in various parts of the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), with seemingly no end in sight for hundreds of thousands of Congolese forced to flee violence and instability over the past two years. The ebb and flow of conflict has left many people constantly on the move, while many families have been separated. At least 1 million people are displaced in North Kivu, the hardest hit province. After years of conflict, more than 1,000 people still die every day - mostly of hunger and treatable diseases. In some areas, two out of three women have been raped. Abductions persist and children are forcefully recruited to fight. Outbreaks of cholera and other diseases have increased as the situation deteriorates and humanitarian agencies struggle to respond to the needs of the displaced.

When the displacement crisis worsened in North Kivu in 2007, the UN refugee agency sent emergency teams to the area and set up operations in several camps for internally displaced people (IDPs). Assistance efforts have also included registering displaced people and distributing non-food aid. UNHCR carries out protection monitoring to identify human rights abuses and other problems faced by IDPs in North and South Kivu.

Displaced in North Kivu: A Life on the Run

Displaced by Fresh Fighting in North Kivu

Waves of fighting in eastern Democratic of the Republic since late April have displaced tens of thousands of people. Many have become internally displaced within the province, while others have fled to south-west Uganda's Kisoro district or to Rwanda via the Goma-Gisenyi crossing.

The stop-start clashes between government forces and renegade soldiers loyal to former rebel commander Bosco Ntaganda began in the province's Masisi and Walikale territories, but subsequently shifted to Rutshuru territory, which borders Uganda.

Between May 10-20, one of UNHCR's local NGO partners registered more than 40,000 internally displaced people (IDP) in Jomba and Bwesa sectors.

The IDPs are living in difficult conditions, staying in school buildings and churches or with host families. They lack food and shelter and have limited access to health facilities. Some of the displaced have reported cases of extortion, forced labour, beatings and recruitment of minors to fight.

UNHCR and other major aid organizations plan to distribute food, medicine and other aid. More than 300,000 people have been forcibly displaced in North and South Kivu since the start of the year, according to UN figures.

Displaced by Fresh Fighting in North Kivu

Internally Displaced in Chad

In scenes of devastation similar to the carnage across the border in Darfur, some 20 villages in eastern Chad have been attacked, looted, burned and emptied by roving armed groups since 4 November. Hundreds of people have been killed, many more wounded and at least 15,000 displaced from their homes.

Some 7,000 people have gathered near Goz Beida town, seeking shelter under trees or wherever they can find it. As soon as security permits, UNHCR will distribute relief items. The UN refugee agency has already provided newly arrived IDPs at Habila camp with plastic sheeting, mats, blankets and medicine. The agency is scouting for a temporary site for the new arrivals and in the meantime will increase the number of water points in Habila camp.

The deteriorating security situation in the region and the effect it might have on UNHCR's operation to help the refugees and displaced people, is of extreme concern. There are 90,000 displaced people in Chad, as well as 218,000 refugees from Darfur in 12 camps in eastern Chad.

Posted on 30 November 2006

Internally Displaced in Chad

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.
Iraq: Preparing for Winter in DohukPlay video

Iraq: Preparing for Winter in Dohuk

Efforts are under way in Syria, Iraq and neighbouring countries to prepare refugees and the internally displaced for winter. But UNHCR remains deeply concerned that a $58.45 million funding shortfall could leave as many as a million people out in the cold.
Displaced women sew up a future in Kachin campPlay video

Displaced women sew up a future in Kachin camp

Conflict in Myanmar's Kachin state has displaced tens of thousands. In the town of Laiza, UNHCR is helping women in Hpun Lum Yang camp to learn tailoring skills as part of a pilot project to foster cohesion among IDP women in the camp and help them find solutions for the practical problems they and their community face.