After surviving a dash for freedom, South Sudanese just happy to have home

Telling the Human Story, 14 April 2014

© UNHCR/L.F.Godinho
In a thatched hut she helped build, Nyakuor Duer prepares food for her four children at Kule refugee camp. She is among some 93,000 South Sudanese refugees who have fled to Ethiopia's western Gambella Regional State.

KULE REFUGEE CAMP, Ethiopia, April 14 (UNHCR) The ordinary act of cooking sorghum stew comes as a nearly revolutionary blessing for 25-year-old Nyakuor Duer after all she's survived. The South Sudanese woman trekked 22 days on foot, feeding four small children wild leaves and fruit plucked from trees along the way, just to find safety in next-door Ethiopia.

She and the children, ranging from a few months to 11 years, made it. Her husband, five brothers, her mother and stepmother did not. She has no idea what happened to them. Whether they are dead or alive.

"I would like to return to South Sudan," the young refugee woman says as she prepares lunch in the traditional round tukul hut she helped build. "But the war is going over there. Now I prefer living here in Ethiopia where my family has a home and can get water and food."

She was the first woman to arrive at this new camp near Gambella in western Ethiopia, already home to some 34,000, and one of some 93,000 South Sudanese who have streamed into Ethiopia since violence erupted in South Sudan last December. Unlike other countries in the region that have accepted nearly 300,000 refugees, Ethiopia has seen mostly women and children arriving, with few men.

Many, like her baby girl, Awili, arrive severely malnourished. After being moved to the newly-created Kule Camp managed by the UN refugee agency UNHCR and Ethiopia's national Administration for Refugee and Returnee Affairs, Awili got emergency feeding to restore her health.

Earlier this month, UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres visited both Kule Camp and the nearby Pagak border entry point, where hundreds of people cross daily from South Sudan to draw attention to the tragedy in South Sudan and the needs in the region. In Ethiopia, UNHCR has prioritized vulnerable groups, in particular children with severe acute malnutrition and their families, for relocation to the new camps. UNHCR and partners need to raise USD 102 million to provide for the basic needs of South Sudanese refugees in Ethiopia.

These days Nyakuor's family gets food from UNHCR's sister agency the World Food Programme. The emergency tent she first got from UNHCR has now been replaced by a more familiar tukul, a traditional round shelter topped by the elephant grass she collected.

The family was able to move last week when UNHCR and shelter partner Norwegian Refugee Council began locating refugees to higher ground to protect them from flooding during the coming rainy season. Nyakuor was happy to move in with the cooking pots, spoons, forks and knives she had already received from UNHCR.

Not everything's perfect, she admits. "I'd like to see my tukul improved to cope with the rainy season," she says. Also on her wish list are some blankets to protect her children against colder nights.

But most of all she hopes her stay in Ethiopia will only be temporary. "I hope my family and I will be able to return to South Sudan," she says, preparing to ladle out the sorghum.

By Luiz Fernando Godinho, in Gambella, Ethiopia

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