South Sudan: reggae musician born in exile becomes displaced back home

Telling the Human Story, 3 January 2014

© UNHCR/K.Gebreegziabher
Student and reggae and musician David, one of the displaced in Juba, climbs up to his shipping container "bedroom," where he sleeps.

JUBA, South Sudan, January 3 (UNHCR) David became a refugee even before he was born, when his pregnant mother fled to Ethiopia in 1986. But he never imagined that 26 years later he would become displaced again, in his own newly independent country of South Sudan.

"I spent most of my years moving from place to place as a refugee in foreign lands, but nothing compares to the situation I'm in today," he says inside a UN military base that has become a sanctuary for civilians displaced by fighting over the last two weeks. "As a refugee [for 20 years] in Ethiopia and Kenya, at least I had security and basic assistance, but here we are living in a state of fear because we are unsure of what is going to happen in the next minute."

And this just a few kilometres from his own home in the South Sudan capital, Juba. A student in Nairobi, David had the bad luck to be back in Juba when violent clashes erupted last December 15, pitting government troops against forces led by former Vice President Riek Machar.

The conflict quickly spread to seven of the country's 10 states, displacing close to 200,000 people, including about 10,000 who fled to neighbouring countries. About 56,000 South Sudanese and other civilians have sought sanctuary in military bases of the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) across the country, including about 14,000 at the base in Juba known as Tong Ping where David now lives.

The conditions in Tong Ping are squalid. Aid agencies have provided some basic assistance, but most displaced people are looking after themselves. David says even those who fled with some money find it too dangerous to leave the UN compound to buy food.

UNHCR is working closely with other UN agencies to protect the displaced. "We and our partners are active in tracing separated children and reunifying them with their families, as well as in the identification, reporting and treatment of victims of sexual and gender-based violence," says Peter Trotter, UNHCR's senior protection officer in South Sudan.

Speaking Amharic, which he learned during his 14 years in Ethiopia, David recounts how he came to Juba in December to get vital documents so he could finish his studies in TV and video production in Nairobi, capital of next-door Kenya. Originally from Malakal, capital of the oil-rich state of Upper Nile, some 600 kilometres north of Juba, David had also learned Kiswahili during another stint as a refugee in Kenya.

But while collecting his documents in Juba, fighting erupted on 15 December. "It was a terrible experience; we were all terrified by the gunshots which went on well into the night, leaving us all desperate to leave our homes," he says. He finally plucked up his courage to run to the UNMISS base for protection.

"I arrived here with no money and just the clothes I was wearing," he says, managing a smile despite his grim story. "I am surviving with support from friends and other people I know."

David chose to sleep on top of one of the many shipping containers scattered around the military base, which is next to the capital's commercial airport. "As you can see, the ground is muddy and filthy and I thought the container top is a better place to sleep," he says.

But perhaps this unlikely shelter is one reason he's not yet received any of the food and other relief items handed out by UN agencies and non-governmental organizations.

The multi-lingual young man is a passionate reggae musician who has earned money performing in Ethiopia and Kenya. But his once bright future is dimming before his eyes. "I thought our terrible past was gone forever and was planning to finish my diploma and come back home to work," he says of his country, which recently celebrated its second anniversary of independence, gained after a 22-year-long war.

"But now that the situation is becoming so bad, all I'm praying for is to get the chance to leave the country" yet again.

By Kisut Gebre Egziabher in Juba, South Sudan




UNHCR country pages

Internally Displaced People

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

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

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

Displaced inside Syria: UNHCR and its Dedicated Staff help the Needy

The violence inside Syria continues to drive people from their homes, with some seeking shelter elsewhere in their country and others risking the crossing into neighbouring countries. The United Nations estimates that up to 4 million people are in need of help, including some 2 million believed to be internally displaced.

The UN refugee agency has 350 staff working inside Syria. Despite the insecurity, they continue to distribute vital assistance in the cities of Damascus, Aleppo, Al Hassakeh and Homs. Thanks to their work and dedication, more than 350,000 people have received non-food items such as blankets, kitchen sets and mattresses. These are essential items for people who often flee their homes with no more than the clothes on their backs. Cash assistance has been given to more than 10,600 vulnerable Syrian families.

Displaced inside Syria: UNHCR and its Dedicated Staff help the Needy

Syria: Hope Returns to Baba AmrPlay video

Syria: Hope Returns to Baba Amr

Twelve out of 36 neighbourhoods in the city of Homs are in desperate need of reconstruction. One of them is Baba Amr, where clashes in 2011-2012 uprooted some 80,000 people. Four years on, returning residents and Syrians displaced from other parts of the country are coming together to rebuild the area.
Syria: Heading Home to RuinsPlay video

Syria: Heading Home to Ruins

Nearly half a million residents from Homs and surrounding areas have been displaced by heavy fighting, some multiple times within Syria, while others have fled abroad. One of the biggest challenges facing returnees, is rebuilding their homes in the rubble of old Homs and Hamediyeh.
Syria: High Commissioner brings help to the displaced in Syria
Play video

Syria: High Commissioner brings help to the displaced in Syria

In his first visit to Syria as UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi appealed to all parties to the conflict to allow regular, unimpeded and sustained access for humanitarian organizations to besieged and hard to reach areas. He also visited a clinic and a community centre providing protection services to some of the 6.5 million people displaced inside the country.