Long, dangerous journey ends in reunion for refugee family separated in flight

Telling the Human Story, 8 November 2013

© UNHCR/D.Majak
Seven-year-old Bedewe at the Yida refugee settlement before he was taken by UNHCR to be reunited with his parents at another camp after a long separation.

AJUONG THOK, South Sudan, November 8 (UNHCR) For Majdi Bedewe, doing the best by his son meant risking the chance that he might not see him again.

In February, 2013 the fighting between government and rebel forces, which had displaced tens of thousands in Sudan's South Kordofan state, came to their small village. "There were gunshots all over so I had to flee from home with my family," Majdi recalled. Father, mother and their seven-year-old son Bedewe set off by foot, not sure where they would go and with little in the way of supplies. For the child the journey was exhausting and traumatic.

"I was frightened that we would all die during the journey," said Majdi. "How would my name be remembered if we were all to die?" He decided to send the boy ahead.

He knew his brother, who had fled the fighting earlier, was now living in the Yida refugee settlement across the border in South Sudan. Majdi found a truck driver who agreed to deliver the boy to his uncle in Yida. "I didn't even think about what would happen to my son on his way. I knew that only God could save him."

Majdi and his wife returned to their village, but the continuing conflict had made growing crops too dangerous and hunger eventually forced them to leave their home again. In July, they and more than one thousand other people from South Kordofan crossed into South Sudan, settling in the town of Kodok near the Nile River. They survived by cooking leaves from the surrounding trees before they were discovered and assisted by UNHCR and its partner agencies.

They group was counselled to relocate to the Ajuong Thok camp in a neighbouring state, and some 200 people Majdi and his wife Tomo among them put themselves forward for the move. In September they travelled by ferry for more than 30 hours before boarding trucks for the final leg of the move to Ajuong Thok.

It was at the refugee camp, after more than a year of separation and at the end of a long and arduous journey, that the family was finally reunited. Majdi asked UNHCR staff to try and find their son in the Yida settlement within eight days, Bedewe was back with his parents.

"I am a very lucky man to have made the decision to come to Ajuong Thok," said Majdi. "Words cannot express how grateful I am to UNHCR for helping us to find our child."

The boy's reunion with his mother took place at the camp's medical clinic, where she was being treated for stomach pain. "Seeing my child, who was lost and now is found, who was dead but now is alive, has already restored my strength," said Toma tearfully.

In the camp the family was provided with a plot of land and materials to allow them to build a shelter. Monthly food rations are provided along with other basic services. Like others in the camp, Majdi plans to start a small vegetable patch to supplement the rations they receive. The camp's classroom provides an opportunity to his son that was not available to him. "I was never able to go to school, but here my son will be able to study," said Majdi as he considered the future.

By Dew Sunday Majak in Ajuong Thok, South Sudan

• DONATE NOW •

 

• GET INVOLVED • • STAY INFORMED •

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: 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

Uganda: A Father's TroublesPlay video

Uganda: A Father's Troubles

Forty-five-year-old Gabriel fled South Sudan with his wife and children to find safety in the UN compound in Bor. But, in April 2014, his wife was killed when an armed mob forced their way in, and now he is a single father to five children, seeking a better life in Uganda.