I became a refugee a week after my birth in May 1983.
Now, with around 2000 people fleeing South Sudan every day, I must watch my compatriots suffer the same chaos and panic.
For those forced to leave, poverty, instability and fear awaits. This is the world’s newest country, but yet it faces fighting all too familiar to this region.
Back in 1983 my mom fled before the outbreak of fighting between the SPLA and government forces. It was a war of liberation, which many Southerners died for. But regardless of the cause, it was the innocent civilians, mostly children and women, who bore the brunt of that war.
Today’s ongoing conflict is different. Unlike the war of liberation, the conflict has quickly assumed an ethnic dimension; innocent people risk being killed on ethnic grounds.
My family has not been exempt from this violence, with my parents forced to hide in the bush, only returning to the relative safety of the capital Juba, earlier this month.
The few families who’ve decided to remain in the bush have had to survive without clean water, food and medical care. The nearest town of Bor had its hospital looted and partly destroyed in the recent fighting. When someone needs urgent medical attention, they will have to trek to Juba- no easy feat for a poor, unemployed refugee whose livelihood has just been shattered by fighting.
Some of my work colleagues have evacuated their families to neighbouring countries, with others ending up in refugee camps. In the office, I met my work colleague, Peter Ajak, based in Malakal. He had just returned from the Upper Nile State and come to Juba to seek a visa so that he could try to get to Khartoum to see his family. When fighting erupted in Malakal on December 23, 2013, Ajak was unprepared for what would unfold. In the space of 4 months he lost everything he owned, including his home. Before fleeing into Sudan, his family first sought refuge in the village. He was hoping that the crisis would be over quickly so that his family could return home. However, with Malakal changing hands several times between the government and opposition forces, Ajak had to make the difficult decision to send his family into exile in Khartoum, Sudan, while he remained behind to work for World Vision.
Another colleague spoke of how his sister fled to the bush with her children just last week following an attack on their village by armed groups. The family trekked through the bush for four days before arriving in Upper Nile state, without any personal belongings. In the same week, I consoled another work colleague who had lost some of her family members during the recent fighting in Bentiu, Unity State, in which the UN estimates 200 civilians were killed. The level of human carnage in this country is overwhelming and every day I find myself wondering whether we will survive this crisis.
South Sudan only took its place amongst the community of nations on July 9th 2011, less than three years later its in danger of becoming a failed state.
My tale as a refugee is one echoed by millions in South Sudan during its troubled past, now its again being retold. If nothing is done, the million people already displaced will become millions- and the numbers facing starvation or bloodshed will only grow.