By Lucy Beck in Adjumani, Uganda
April 16, 2014 (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.