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Man of the cloth returns to Sudan to serve home flock after years in exile

News Stories, 28 September 2011

© UNHCR/C.Waru G
Pastor Gibson Waru at work for UNHCR in Yambio, South Sudan.

YAOUNDÉ, Cameroon, September 28 (UNHCR) Gibson Waru has long been grateful to UNHCR for its help and support during his years in exile from South Sudan. Now the refugee agency has taken on the 36-year-old as a community services assistant, giving the Christian pastor a chance to help others and to rebuild his country.

Waru returned home last December, some 15 years after fleeing from the civil war in Sudan and making his way to Central African Republic and then, in 2006, to Cameroon. He was seconded to UNHCR after becoming a UN Volunteer.

He is delighted to be back in South Sudan and to be working with an organization for which he has so much respect and gratitude. "I can now make ends meet," he said in an e-mail message from the city of Yambio, adding that the help and training he had received from UNHCR "have prepared me for this career."

Aside from preaching in church and promoting volunteerism for development, Pastor Waru said he spends his time "serving the needy, like the returnees and refugees. He said he eventually plans to "go back to teaching, which was my profession for years."

UNHCR launched a voluntary repatriation programme for Sudan in December 2005, after the signing earlier that year of a peace accord between the Sudanese government in Khartoum and rebels in the south. South Sudan became independent in July, with its capital located in Juba, some 450 kilometres east of Yambio. More than 330,000 refugees have since returned with UNHCR help.

Those returning face many challenges, including recovering their land, earning a living, sending their children to school. Sometimes the memories of the past are still alive and heavy. But most, like Pastor Waru, say they are happy to finally be home.

He fled the Sudan with his family in February 1996 and made his way to neighbouring Central African Republic. But in 2006, Pastor Gibson with his wife and two children fled to Cameroon to escape generalized violence between government forces and rebels. This conflict forced tens of thousands of people to flee to Chad and Cameroon.

He made the most of his five years in Cameroon, where he became a leading member of the small Sudanese refugee community of about 70 people in the capital, Yaoundé.

And with the help of UNHCR, he learned new skills on leadership and health care and on how to help and work with refugees, especially those with special needs, such as people with medical problems, female-headed households, older people and unaccompanied minors. Pastor Waru also took part in workshops on sexual and gender-based violence, which can affect displaced communities. He uses what he has learnt on a daily basis as a community services officer.

During his 15 years as a refugee, Pastor Waru often thought wistfully of his homeland, hoping that one day he could return. He finally decided to go back when it seemed that South Sudan was heading for independence and after the closure of the market in Yaoundé where he ran a small photocopying business, set up with help from an income-generation programme.

There are currently more than 120,000 refugees and asylum-seekers in Cameroon, mostly from the Central African Republic.

By Elema Fulem in Yaoundé, Cameroon




UNHCR country pages

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UNHCR works with the country of origin and host countries to help refugees return home.

Returnees in Myanmar

During the early 1990s, more than 250,000 Rohingya Muslims fled across the border into Bangladesh, citing human rights abuses by Myanmar's military government. In exile, refugees received shelter and assistance in 20 camps in the Cox's Bazaar region of Bangladesh. More than 230,000 of the Rohingya Muslims have returned since 1992, but about 22,000 still live in camps in Bangladesh. To promote stability in returnee communities in Myanmar and to help this group of re-integrate into their country, UNHCR and its partner agencies provide monitors to insure the protection and safety of the returnees as well as vocational training, income generation schemes, adult literacy programs and primary education.

Returnees in Myanmar

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

Silent Success

Despite being chased from their homes in the Central African Republic and losing their livelihoods, Mbororo refugees have survived by embracing a new way of life in neighbouring Cameroon.

The Mbororo, a tribe of nomadic cattle herders from Central African Republic, started fleeing their villages in waves in 2005, citing insecurity as well as relentless targeting by rebel groups and bandits who steal their cattle and kidnap women and children for ransom.

They arrived in the East and Adamaoua provinces of Cameroon with nothing. Though impoverished, the host community welcomed the new arrivals and shared their scant resources. Despite this generosity, many refugees died of starvation or untreated illness.

Help arrived in 2007, when UNHCR and partner agencies began registering refugees, distributing food, digging and rehabilitating wells as well as building and supplying medical clinics and schools, which benefit refugees and the local community and promote harmony between them. The Mbororo were eager to learn a new trade and set up farming cooperatives. Though success didn't come immediately, many now make a living from their crops.

Mbororo refugees continue to arrive in Central African Republic - an average of 50 per month. The long-term goal is to increase refugees' self-reliance and reduce their dependency on humanitarian aid.

Silent Success

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
Cameroon: A Young Victim of ViolencePlay video

Cameroon: A Young Victim of Violence

Militia attacks on civilians in Central African Republic have left many people, including children, dead or badly injured. Six-year-old Ibrahim is recovering from one such attack, lucky to be alive.
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.