By Candia Stephen
Koboko-Women, men and children in the villages of South Sudan have continued to bear the brunt of the clashes in various parts of the country as they are forced out to seek for safety in Uganda.
The women especially have continued to suffer from the war as they try to seek for safe haven in Uganda. Both soldiers from the warring factions and the government have numerously been accused of rape and maiming the women especially, hence violating their rights with impunity.
The continued rape and abuse of the rights evokes sad memories while their husbands mainly are conscripted into the forces to fight. Although there is decrease in number of new arrivals, many south Sudanese refugees seeking safety in Uganda continue to be haunted by horrific experiences in their country.
At Kuluba collection center in Koboko district, which used to receive over 200-refugees daily at the start of the civil war, the numbers have now reduced to as low as 10-20 arrivals daily. Uganda now has hosts about 1.2 million South Sudan refugees.
This, once a busy reception center has also become a sparsely populated with a largely quiet atmosphere, unoccupied carpet accommodation halls and fewer vehicles to transport the refugees to the camps.
But the stories of the few new arrivals, mainly elderly women and men, breast feeding mothers and children, leaves a lot of bitter taste of the continuing conflict in the new Country that has never had peace since the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in 2005 that ushered into the split of Sudan. The agreement was signed with hope of finding lasting peace after decades of civil wars.
The glaring stories and genesis of the war
Meeting a 98 year-old Miriam Akio, a mother of one, who has since the war broke out in 2013 stayed in her village in Yei, says the continued indiscriminate killing of civilians forced them to finally walk in to Uganda for four days through bushes.
Speaking in her native Bari mixed with some Arabic, the feeble looking Akio, awaiting her transportation to the camps in Imvepi says the current war in south Sudan is worse than the ‘Anyanya’ war, which she witnessed many years ago.
Marriam Akio, the 98 year-old woman at the reception center. Photos by Candia Stephen.
The Anyanya war that took place between 1952-1972 drove hundreds of Sudanese especially from the South to West Nile especially in Moyo district. This was the first civil war in South Sudan where the leaders formed a separatist movement to fight mainly the Arabs.
She says they would move, hide for hours and sleep in the bushes whenever they sensed danger and stayed without food until she arrived at Busia border-a reception center.
“We thought the war was getting over but, the soldiers are now massacring people more and more, that’s why we have escaped, walking for all the four days,” Akio recounts as tears rolled down her cheeks.
The conflict has remained complex to end as several rebel groups have been formed throughout South Sudan, all fighting the government.
Both government and the SPLA-IO has denied atrocities being committed on the civilians in the country. The South Sudan Ambassador to Uganda, Samuel Luate, said that: “The SPLA-IO and other militia groups are purely responsible for atrocities against civilians because we have a responsibility to protect citizens. How can we turn against our own citizens? This is impossible. SPLA-IO is taking advantage of the unilateral ceasefire to attack our forces. ”
Another survivor of the war, Joseph Lagu, 39 from Mugo village in Yei, who arrived at Busia border point on Monday after the soldiers attacked and killed two young men in their village, said: “I immediately took off through the bushes after he soldiers started driving away my animals. I slept in the bush for two days and finally arrived at Busia on Monday where I was picked up by these people. I hope to find peace and security here.”
He added most of the people in their area now have no food because those who try to go and harvest are killed causing starvation for them, all their property have been looted.
Some of the rebels ready to pull the trigger as they continue to fight the government forces. Internet photo
On the other side, the Deputy Spokesperson for SPLA-IO, Col Paul Lam Gabriel said: “It is the government soldiers who go on raping and killing people and we end up being blamed. We want to reform the country and atrocities are not one of our agenda. And we have not recruited youths but these are people who are taking guns to defend their land from the government. We are not recruiting underage people.”
Ann Ajiba 29 years from Kendila clan in Yei, South Sudan, who spent three days traveling on foot says she will never forget the horror inflicted on her by an SPLA soldier. With a month old child in her hand, Ajiba says her husband disappeared and left her when the war started a year ago. She has since lost contact with him.
“We remained at our home hopping that the war would stop but one day an armed man arrived at the home, grabbed me, took me in to the bush and raped me,” narrated Ajiba.
She added her efforts to resist became futile as the soldier over powered her until he did what he wanted as she became helpless.
Ann Ajiba 29 years from Kendila clan in Yei town in South Sudan
Meanwhile Emmanuel Sebiti, 39 years a Kakwa from Ombaci about 18 kilometers away from Yei town who arrived at the reception center in the morning hours of Thursday, the soldiers scattered everyone in their village with gunship attack forcing everyone to take different direction.
He says his wife’s where about is not known and after moving for two days, he found himself in Uganda and was later picked and taken to the reception center.
“All roads have been blocked, where the women go to dry cassava, the soldiers surround them and rape them and everything has become horrible,” Lagu added.
He says most people now fear to open up on their nasty experiences since it keeps haunting them.
How hope is being restored for them
Care International has been offering assistance to restore the lost hope for the refugees. This has enabled some of them to settle and have peace of mind especially in Bidibidi and Ofua settlement camps. Office of Prime Minister-OPM, Danish Refugee Council-DRC and Medical Teams International-MTI are currently providing basic services to the new arrivals at the center which was established in 2013.
Mary Candiru, a comprehensive Nurse working with Medical Teams International says the screening conducted shows mainly cases of malnutrition, malaria, respiratory and urinary tract infections as the most common challenges facing the vulnerable refugees.
“We also address issues of psychological torture and sexual gender based violence, which in our statistics, ranges between two to three in a month since the numbers have gone down,” she said.
Smile at last: A woman holds the energy giving food that is distributed at Yangani health center for malnourished children.
Meanwhile Samuel Eyotre, the assistant supervisor Danish refugee Council says all the new arrivals are provided with hot meals, protection, accommodation, overnight sets, sanitary pads for the women and protected room for the vulnerable and clothes donated by people of good will.
According to him between three and five cases of most vulnerable refugees including unaccompanied minors are received on daily basis since the beginning of July this year.
Water scarcity and ambulance services for pregnant mothers have remained persistent challenges at the reception center in Kuluba according to Joseph Ochanda the in charge Office of the Prime Minister at the reception center.
He says the three picking points of Birijaku, Salia Musala and Busia on average receive between five and twenty new arrivals on daily basis comprising mainly those who have been caught up, the elderly, children and pregnant mothers.