In a refugee camp in South Sudan, a new arrival and new hopes

News Stories, 27 June 2013

© UNHCR/L.Isla
Marioma and her new-born daughter are among some 1,700 refugees now living in the Ajuong Thok camp in South Sudan. UNHCR hopes that as word of the services available at the camp spreads, more families will relocate from another overcrowded settlement.

AJUONG THOK, South Sudan, June 27 (UNHCR) Marioma Anur has still not decided on a name for her week-old daughter, but she already has a clear aspiration for the infant: she wants her to be get an education.

Last week, Marioma became the first refugee in the Ajuong Thok camp in South Sudan to give birth. The June 19 delivery took place in a clinic in the camp operated by the International Rescue Committee, a UNHCR partner, where staff had previously helped three women from the local host community to also give birth to healthy babies.

Marioma and her husband, Kambala, fled their village in neighbouring Sudan in April to escape fighting between government and rebel forces. Months of bombardments and food shortages had left the couple fearing for their lives and those of their three children. Safety, they had heard, could be found across the border.

Leaving their children in the care of their grandmother, the couple set off on a two-day walk to South Sudan. When they arrived at the Yida refugee settlement in Unity state, UNHCR staff told them about the food rations and assistance available at the Ajuong Thok camp.

The camp was opened three months ago to ease overcrowding in the Yida settlement, which was spontaneously created by refugees escaping violence in Sudan in 2011. Now home to more than 70,000 people, Yida is also close to a contested and militarized border and is considered by the government of South Sudan and UNHCR to be unsuitable as a refugee camp.

Refugees living in Yida have been encouraged to move to Ajuong Thok, where there are schools and medical clinics as well as sufficient land to allow families to grow some of their own food. Refugees were initially reluctant to move, but as word spread of the services available in the new camp a growing number of people relocated. The population of Ajuong Thok is now more than 1,700.

"Ajuong Thok is a well-established refugee camp, which provides a safe environment where UNHCR can ensure better protection and higher standard of services available such as education and livelihoods," said Serge Berthomieu, UNHCR's officer-in-charge in Yida. "The increase in the number of refugees moving to the new camp shows that information about Ajuong Thok is spreading, and we would expect higher numbers in the following months."

When Marioma and her husband arrived in Ajuong Thok, she was diagnosed as being severely malnourished. The couple received emergency food rations and Marioma was provided with supplementary feeding through a nutrition programme run by a UNHCR partner. The couple were assigned a plot of land, shelter materials and other relief items.

"I am grateful for the support I received in this camp. I was not able to bring anything from our home, and everything we have here was given to us by humanitarian agencies," Marioma told UNHCR staff.

Her husband plans to grow vegetables with seeds he received from another UNHCR partner and, with the family now safely established in South Sudan, will soon return to his village to collect the couple's other children.

Like the more than 300 children who regularly attend primary school in Ajuong Thok, Marioma is determined that her daughter will also receive an education.

The family recently received a visit from Magdalia, the first refugee woman to arrive in Ajuong Thok, She now serves as a member of the refugee committee and is active in encouraging refugees to establish community support mechanisms in the new site.

Inspired by Magdalia's role, Marioma considered a bright future for her daughter. "Maybe, in some years, she will also be a woman leader."

By Lorena Isla in Ajuong Thok, South Sudan