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South Sudanese, who are again refugees in Uganda, see no reason to ever go home

Telling the Human Story, 16 April 2014

After being a refugee in Uganda from 1991 to 2005, Joseph Anyang Ngong has now had to flee to Uganda from his home in South Sudan for a second time.

ADJUMANI, Uganda, April 16 (UNHCR) When Joseph Anyang Ngong took his family home from Uganda in 2005, he thought a safe and secure future lay before them in Sudan's Bor region. Now that his family are back in Uganda as refugees for a second time, he can see no reason to ever return to South Sudan.

Many of those arriving in Uganda from South Sudan in this latest wave of refugees are self-proclaimed old hands at displacement after fleeing during the 20-year civil war between north and south Sudan that ended in 2005. That conflict left an estimated two million people dead, 428,000 refugees in neighbouring countries and 2.5 million internally displaced.

The majority of refugees arriving in Adjumani, like 62-year-old Joseph, come from the turbulent Bor region of Jonglei state. The have travelled nearly 400 kilometres to reach Uganda, often after having sought temporary shelter in Juba before fighting pushed them on. They watched both rebel and government soldiers burn their homes, destroy their crops, steal their cattle and kill their relatives and neighbours.

For Joseph and his family, Uganda had provided a safe haven for 14 years during the previous conflict before they were repatriated with UNHCR assistance when peace returned.

"At that time we went back and saw the situation was different and the UN gave us food and tools," he said. "When we left last time things were left (behind) and we went back to search for them. This time there is nothing."

The latest escape from Bor -- for Joseph, his two wives, 12 children and nephew Mamer's family -- came on Christmas Eve 2013. Joseph and his nephew Mamer were cattle farmers. The rebels destroyed everything, even the fields of sorghum that fed the two families.

They walked for five hours to reach the town of Mangala, with rebels in pursuit most of the way. Their luggage was stolen and the extended family was dispersed. Many remain missing. "If they are alive they will come here, otherwise they are lost," says Joseph.

"There is nothing left there, the food is burnt and cattle are taken, so we cannot go back," says Joseph. "By now we don't have any powers or resources so we will wait here …there is nothing left in South Sudan."

His youngest daughter Akech, who is just 3-years-old and one of the few family members fleeing home for the first time, remains traumatized, crying at the sight of any object that slightly resembles a gun.

When the most recent crisis erupted last December, UNHCR staff also were caught by surprise at the scale; a deja vu of the 1990s when Adjumani's Ogujebe refugee transit centre was the largest in Africa.

"This influx is just like the first influx of the 1990s with such big numbers and happening so suddenly," said UNHCR Senior Programme Associate Joy Kaba. "This is the same as in 1991 still the same issues, the same cause of flight."

Joseph's sentiment is echoed by many refugees in Adjumani: staying in Uganda, even with all the challenges, is a much more attractive prospect that starting from scratch again in a country whose future is now so uncertain.

"We are tired of always running, running," says Joseph.

By Lucy Beck in Adjumani, Uganda




UNHCR country pages

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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

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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