South Sudanese man loses everything, but finds peace most important

Telling the Human Story, 8 April 2014

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




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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.

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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: The Long Trip Home

When the peace treaty that ended 21 years of civil war between north and south Sudan was signed in 2005, some 223,000 Sudanese refugees were living in Uganda – the largest group of Sudanese displaced to a neighbouring country.

Despite South Sudan's lack of basic infrastructure, such as schools, hospitals and roads, many Sudanese were eager to go home. In May 2006, the UN refugee agency's Uganda office launched an assisted repatriation programme for Sudanese refugees. The returnees were given a repatriation package, including blankets, sleeping mats, plastic sheets, mosquito nets, water buckets, kitchen sets, jerry cans, soap, seeds and tools, before being transported from the transit centres to their home villages. As of mid-2008, some 60,000 Sudanese living in Uganda had been helped back home.

As of the beginning of May 2008, some 275,000 Sudanese refugees had returned to South Sudan from surrounding countries, including Uganda, Ethiopia, Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Kenya. Some 125,000 returned with UNHCR assistance.

Posted on 16 July 2008

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