South Sudanese man loses everything, but finds peace most important

News Stories, 8 April 2014

© UNHCR/F.Noy
Refugees arriving from South Sudan enjoy their security at the Dzaipie Reception Centre in Uganda.

RHINO REFUGEE CAMP, Uganda, April 8 (UNHCR) Until very recently, Magai Bakam was a businessman in South Sudan with a shop of his own and 300 head of cattle. Today he is a refugee in northern Uganda where even his phone does not work.

But far from mourning his loss, he is grateful to have found refuge here in Arua, northern Uganda, from a war that has chased more than a million South Sudanese from his home and finally to be able to sleep soundly at night.

Magai was unlucky enough to be displaced nearly five months before generalized violence broke out in the country last December. Magai, 38, says soldiers attacked his village near the oil-rich border town of Heglig in South Kordofan State in July of last year.

As he recounts the fight, his father and uncle were killed in indiscriminate shooting. He, his wife and four children fled into the bush. His two oldest children were abducted and to this day he does not know what happened to them. His shop was burned, his cattle stolen. He was left with nothing, not even shoes.

"We travelled by the main road, walking, heading to Juba," the South Sudanese capital, Magai says. "We walked two days" and got a ride where possible. But in Juba there was no work, no job, no cattle…"

For 22 days the little family lingered warily in the capital, haunted by the massacre in their village. In Juba, Magai met a man from his own Nuer tribe who saved the family from starvation by sharing some flour. Another stranger from Equatorial State gave them a home for a while.

But they were scared to remain in Juba with no money, and finally someone else gave them enough money to head to the Ugandan border.

"We took a bus with different tribes, all heading for the border," Magai says. "From Juba to Yei, Yei to Kaya… and from there we walked to Oraba," an entry point into Koboko District in Uganda.

In Koboko a Dinka man gave them a ride to Rhino Camp, run by the Ugandan government and the UN refugee agency. He soon received a plot of land for his family where they can plant a small garden and be somewhat independent.

"I don't want to go back to South Sudan; I want to stay here," Magai says today, sitting peacefully on a woven mat under a large leafy tree. Nearby are fellow refugees Nuer, Dinka, Murle, Anuak all having found a safe haven from the war in South Sudan. As Magai found out on the bus ride to Uganda, ethnic loyalties that seemed to matter so much at home, make no difference in exile.

Since Magai's arrival last summer, the violence that broke out in South Sudan in mid-December 2013 has sent some 93,000 refugees fleeing into Uganda. In total, UNHCR and the Ugandan government are protecting and assisting more than 116,000 South Sudanese refugees.

After losing his home, business and even loved ones, Magai reflects on the peace he found in this northern Uganda refugee settlement: "There are no problems here and I sleep all night long until morning."

By Karen Ringuette in Rhino Camp, Arua, Uganda

• DONATE NOW •

 

• GET INVOLVED • • STAY INFORMED •

UNHCR country pages

A Time Between: Moving on from Internal Displacement in Uganda

This document examines the situation of IDPs in Acholiland in northern Uganda, through the stories of individuals who have lived through conflict and displacement.

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

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

Uganda: Sudanese Refugees Flee Rebel Attacks

On August 5, 2002, some 24,000 Sudanese refugees fled their homes in Achol-Pii camp in northern Uganda after a bloody attack by the Lord's Liberation Army rebel group. More than 60 refugees and many local villagers were killed in the attack.

Fearing further violence, displaced refugees trekked overnight to Lira, from where UNHCR trucked them to Kiryondongo, 100 km to the south-west. Kiryondongo site, a settlement already hosting 13,000 refugees, was temporarily extended to accommodate the Achol-Pii survivors until another site could be prepared.

Arriving families were initially accommodated at an expanded reception centre at Kiryondongo. After being registered, the new arrivals received UNHCR plastic sheeting, an emergency food ration and a 20 x 15-metre plot per family to build their own temporary shelter. UNHCR also distributed blankets and jerry cans. Additional latrines were also dug, new water pumps installed and a new emergency clinic was set up.

Uganda: Sudanese Refugees Flee Rebel Attacks

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: Food Security Play video

South Sudan: Food Security

Jacob is plowing 20 kilometers far from his own home town, Bor, after having to abandon it due to the ongoing fighting in South Sudan. Now in Mingkaman camp,as a displaced person, this land he plows is all he has after losing farm and cattle back home
South Sudan: Flooding Disaster Play video

South Sudan: Flooding Disaster

Nearly 100,000 people are living in cramped, overcrowded camps in Mingkaman, in Rivers State, South Sudan. Whenever it rains, tents become flooded causing already fragile sanitation conditions to worsen.
South Sudan: Rainy SeasonPlay video

South Sudan: Rainy Season

As the rainy season approaches, the humanitarian situation in South Sudan remains critical. The rains will make it more difficult to bring in aid and if conflict continues, half of South Sudan's 12 million people could be in danger of starvation by the end of this year.