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

News Stories, 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




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

Displacement in South Sudan: A Camp Within a Camp

In the three weeks since South Sudan erupted in violence, an estimated 200,000 South Sudanese have found themselves displaced within their own country. Some 57,000 have sought sanctuary at bases of UN peace-keepers across the country. These photos by UNHCR's Senior Regional Public Information Officer Kitty McKinsey give a glimpse of the daily life of the 14,000 displaced people inside the UN compound known locally as Tong Ping, near the airport in Juba, South Sudan's capital. Relief agencies, including UNHCR, are rallying to bring shelter, blankets and other aid items, but in the first days, displaced people had to fend for themselves. The compounds have taken on all the trappings of small towns, with markets, kiosks, garbage collection and public bathing facilities. Amazingly, children still manage to smile and organize their own games with the simplest of materials.

Displacement in South Sudan: A Camp Within a Camp

Emergency food distribution in South Sudan's Jonglei state

Humanitarian organizations in South Sudan are working to deliver emergency assistance to some of the tens of thousands of people displaced by armed conflict in Jonglei state. Most of those uprooted have fled into the bush or have walked for days to reach villages away from the fighting. Others have journeyed even greater distances to find sanctuary in the neighbouring countries of Kenya, Ethiopia and Uganda. Gaining access to those affected in an insecure and isolated area has been a significant challenge for aid workers. Since mid-July, an airlift has been providing food supplies to families living in two previously inaccessible villages and where humanitarian agencies have established temporary bases. As part of the "cluster approach" to humanitarian emergencies, which brings together partners working in the same response sector, UNHCR is leading the protection cluster to ensure the needs of vulnerable individuals among the displaced are addressed.

Emergency food distribution in South Sudan's Jonglei state

Thousands of refugees moved before the rains hit South Sudan

Since the beginning of May, an operation has been under way in South Sudan to move more than 18,000 Sudanese refugees to a newly built camp. Six days a week, around 500 people are transported from the Jamam camp in Upper Nile state to a recently constructed site called Kaya. South Sudan's long and intense rainy season will soon begin in earnest and the operation will move the refugees from a location prone to severe flooding to one designed to remain accessible and functional during the downpours. The rains leave large areas of the country cut off by flood waters for months. Residents of Jamam are assisted to move their household belongings and are allotted a plot of land on arrival in Kaya, where UNHCR partners have established schools and medical facilities. Newly arrived refugees from Sudan are also brought to Kaya, where they are provided with relief items and shelter. UNHCR's Tim Irwin was there with his camera.

Thousands of refugees moved before the rains hit South Sudan

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
Canada: Light Years Ahead
Play video

Canada: Light Years Ahead

With help from the Government of Canada, lives of refugees in Chad and Ethiopia have been transformed through the Light Years Ahead project.
Ethiopia: South Sudanese Refugee InfluxPlay video

Ethiopia: South Sudanese Refugee Influx

Despite a ceasefire agreement signed in early May, fighting continues between government and opposition forces in South Sudan. The renewed conflict has forced thousands of refugees to seek shelter in Ethiopia.