LISTEN TO KARL NAWEZI, HEAD OF MISSION FOR SOUTHERN SUDAN, DESCRIBE SHELTER OF THE REFUGEES IN SUDAN:
© Brendan Bannon Shelters in a refugee camp in Central Equatorials State in Southern Sudan, near the Congolese border.
Seeking Sanctuary in an insecure Sudan
Once in Sudan they either seek assistance in the new refugee camps, or build temporary shelters within Sudanese communities. They group as close as they can to big gatherings of people, hoping for security in numbers. They also stay close to roads leading back to Congo, awaiting news from newly-arriving refugees about loved ones left behind, or abducted. Sometimes they even travel back to their fields in Congo to try to tend to their lands, in the hope they can grow some food for the next harvest.
However, Southern Sudan itself is a region fraught with tension, with increasingly violent clashes in several areas, deep poverty and an acute lack of access to basic services. In the border states near Congo, driven by fear of further attacks, some groups of Congolese refugees and Sudanese fashion their own weapons, organising community patrols to try to protect themselves.
© Brendan Bannon Congolese man Siriche stands behind his wife Aroyo Jose and child Ayezema. Siriche fled to Sudan from Congo after two of his neighbours children were abducted by the LRA.
“It’s sad that these people must come looking for safety in a region that is not even secure itself” says Karl Nawezi, MSF’s Head of Mission for Southern Sudan. “Our medical teams across Southern Sudan already battle to cope with the huge needs that exist for the Sudanese. Yet, Congolese patients tell us that they somehow feel a little safer here, despite the fact that the LRA is also active in the region.”
As the refugees began to stream across the border and the displaced Sudanese began to move within the southeastern border states, MSF teams already providing medical aid in the country quickly established emergency projects to provide healthcare, shelter and sanitation for the displaced and refugees. In September 2008, MSF teams in Western Equatorial State (WES) began to assist a population of more than 15,000 refugees and displaced. Then in February 2009, MSF started a second emergency programme in Central Equatorial State (CES) to assist another 7,000 refugees.
Karl continues, “People who flee have urgent needs. The first week we opened our clinic in one of the refugee camps we received 500 people. Imagine a heavily-pregnant woman fleeing through the jungle, to a country she doesn’t know, then having to give birth. We are here to offer her somewhere safe to deliver her child, somewhere she can be cared for to ensure she and others like her can be treated with dignity.”
© Brendan Bannon
Justin is a young Congolese boy, partially paralysed, whose father was killed in Congo by the LRA. . Justin was saved because he was hiding behind the latrine at the time of the attack. He was brought to Southern Sudan on the back of a bicycle and has now been taken in by an elderly Sudanese woman.
Peace of mind destroyed
Medical aid, food, shelter and sanitation are all essential to assist victims of this violence. Yet this is only one part of the healing people require. Living in persistent terror of attack, many refugees are completely traumatised. As well as losing loved ones, they have also lost their sense of security, their peace of mind destroyed. MSF teams try to address this through specific mental health projects for those affected by violence, including women and children who escaped abduction. MSF counselors organise group and individual sessions, while also working to raise awareness in the community about the psychological impact of violence and how people can seek help. To date they have provided specific mental health support to more than 300 people.
“I will never forget one lady – she used to sit under a tree in the camp, weeping. Her daughter had been raped in front of her and then abducted. She didn’t know whether she was dead or alive.” recalls Francesca Mangia, the MSF Project Coordinator in the refugee camp in Central Equatorial State. “The violence has destroyed lives. People don’t sleep because attacks on their villages took place as darkness fell and they are afraid to close their eyes at night.”
© Brendan Bannon Mboli is worried. He and his parents are effectively trapped as refugees in Southern Sudan, as continuing violence prevents his family from reuniting with his brother Muka, in hospital across the border in Congo.
Refugees continue to cross the border into Southern Sudan every week. Uncertain of when the violence will end or if they can ever return to their homes again, a sense of hopelessness and uncertainty permeates their lives, and those of the displaced.
Four months after reaching Sudan, Mboli received the good news that somehow his brother Muka had managed to escape from the LRA, and that he was in a hospital in the DRC. His father tried to travel back to Congo to find Muka, but the roads were too dangerous and it was impossible. He will try again once he thinks it is safe. However, life for Mboli and his family, remains bleak.
“I’m so worried about Muka, about our future. The LRA are in my home in Congo. I am a refugee in Sudan, but they are also here. There is nothing to think about the future. What future?”