In a move to a new camp, refugees in South Sudan respond cautiously

News Stories, 17 April 2013

© UNHCR/T.Irwin
In the newly opened Ajoung Thok refugee camp in South Sudan, Hassam Neel Salom tells a member of the Danish Refugee Council, which manages the camp, that he will bring his family once he has finished building his shelter.

AJOUNG THOK, South Sudan, April 17 (UNHCR) During the past three weeks, Hassam Neel Salom has been among a small, but growing number of refugees who have moved from a crowded and insecure settlement near a contested section of the border between South Sudan and Sudan to a new camp.

Salom first came to the Ajoung Thok camp as part of a UNHCR cash for work programme and, together with other refugees and men from the surrounding host communities, helped to construct a refugee camp meeting international standards in a wooded area away from the militarized zone. It will eventually be able to accommodate 20,000 people.

"Working at the camp, I could see the potential it had," he said. "There is more space and services here and I feel more secure." Once he has constructed a rudimentary home using material provided by the UN refugee agency, Salom plans to bring his family.

Many other families living in the Yida settlement closer to the border have expressed a reluctance to move. Yida was established in 2011 by refugees fleeing conflict in Sudan's South Kordofan state.

As the numbers of arrivals dramatically increased, UNHCR, sister UN agencies and non-governmental organizations mounted emergency response operations while at the same time encouraging refugees to move to more secure areas.

Today, Yida's population stands at over 70,000. The government of South Sudan has made it clear that it is not a long-term option and that Yida's residents will, eventually, have to move to the new camp.

Marian Selam and her three children walked for four days to escape the conflict that had reached her village in Sudan's Nuba Mountains. A day after an aerial bombing killed her neighbour and her child, Marian said goodbye to her husband, who was unable to travel due to an injury sustained in an earlier attack, and set off with her children for South Sudan. She had heard in the community that there was a place where people from her region had settled.

At the UNHCR registration centre in Yida, Marian was told that assistance, such as food, relief items and shelter materials were available at Ajoung Thok, but she insisted that she would stay in Yida. "If I heard from my people that the new camp is safe, that there is protection, then I would go," she told a staff member.

Like many of the arriving refugees, Marian had expressed the hope that her children would be able to attend school. UNHCR does not offer primary education in Yida due to security concerns. In November 2011, two bombs dropped by an aircraft landed in the Yida settlement, one of them near a school. Fortunately, there were no casualties. In March, a dispute in the camp resulted in a shooting incident that left a police officer dead.

Residents of Ajoung Thok will have access to schools and medical services and will be provided small plots of land on which they can build a shelter and grow some vegetables. They will also be issued with refugee registration cards.

Boutros Magub also initially declined to go to the new camp, leaving the UNHCR registration centre with his wife and four children for Yida. Nine days later he returned to the centre to register for the next movement to Ajoung Thok.

"Yida was so full of people," he said. "I hear that in the new camp we will have more space, that my children will be able to go to school and that we will receive food rations."

Cosmas Chanda, UNHCR's representative in South Sudan, said that as more people arrive in Ajoung Thok and as the camp continues to grow and develop, "We're confident that more refugees will see the benefits of living in a place where assistance and protection can be better provided."

By Tim Irwin in Ajoung Thok, South Sudan




UNHCR country pages

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

Bonga Camp, Ethiopia

Bonga camp is located in the troubled Gambella region of western Ethiopia. But it remains untouched by the ethnic conflicts that have torn nearby Gambella town and Fugnido camp in the last year.

For Bonga's 17,000 Sudanese refugees, life goes on despite rumblings in the region. Refugee children continue with school and play while their parents make ends meet by supplementing UNHCR assistance with self-reliance projects.

Cultural life is not forgotten, with tribal ceremonies by the Uduk majority. Other ethnic communities – Shuluks, Nubas and Equatorians – are welcome too, judging by how well hundreds of newcomers have settled in after their transfer from Fugnido camp in late 2002.

Bonga Camp, Ethiopia

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: A Long Walk in Search of Safety Play video

South Sudan: A Long Walk in Search of Safety

Years of fighting between Sudan and rebel forces have sent more than 240,000 people fleeing to neighbouring South Sudan, a country embroiled in its own conflict. After weeks on foot, Amal Bakith and her five children are settling in at Ajoung Thok refugee camp where they receive food, shelter, access to education and land.
South Sudan: Four Years On from IndependencePlay video

South Sudan: Four Years On from Independence

In 2011 the people of South Sudan celebrated their independence. Four years later, the world's newest nation is one of the world's worst humanitarian situations. In December 2013, conflict erupted displacing 2 million people including more than 600,000 refugees. South Sudanese has fled to Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, and Sudan. The crisis has especially impacted the next generation of South Sudanese, 70% of those displaced are children.
South Sudan Crisis: One Year OnPlay video

South Sudan Crisis: One Year On