World Refugee Day – displacement in South Sudan

Today is World Refugee Day and the The UN Refugee Agency has announced that the number of refugees, asylum-seekers and internally displaced people worldwide has, for the first time since World War II, exceeded 50 million people. Its annual report on the global displacement situation shows that 51.2 million people were forcibly displaced at the end of 2013 – 6 million more than in 2012.

“We are seeing here the immense costs of not ending wars, of failing to resolve or prevent conflict,” said UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres. “Peace is today dangerously in deficit.”

Undoubtedly, one of the countries contributing to this dramatic increase is South Sudan, where an estimated 1.3 million people have had to flee their homes as a result of the conflict that began last year. Peace talks in Ethiopia have so far failed to stop the fighting, and numerous ceasefire deals have collapsed. Thanks to our South Sudan appeal, we have been able to provide emergency relief to the leprosy community in Juba. Food, blankets and agricultural tools were distributed to around 500 people.

Emergency aid is distributed to the Luri Rokwe leprosy community in Juba, South Sudan.
Emergency aid is distributed to the Luri Rokwe leprosy community in Juba, South Sudan.
emergency aid
Displaced persons with disabilities have many additional needs which can make life even more challenging and full of hardship.

But in neighbouring Jonglei State, many residents of the leprosy community of Malek are still living in temporary shelters on an island in the river Nile, displaced from their own homes. At the beginning of February we received the sad news that two women from the village were killed. They were severely disabled and unable to flee their homes with the rest of their community. One of these women has been named as Mary Nydiang Chuck. The village’s chief, Gabriel Maduor, was also shot, but survived.

This month, TLM’s country leader in South Sudan, Yousif Deng, has visited the community – his first visit since the conflict began and accessing Malek became impossible. In the nearby town of Bor, some NGOs are providing healthcare but access to the region is still limited. At the time of his visit, there were concerns about outbreaks of cholera – a major problem for many camps in South Sudan, where disease is rife and sanitation facilities are limited. Most of the population has been displaced, either internally, or to Uganda, Ethiopia and Kenya.

“On 4 June, I managed to visit Malek leprosy village. Along the way there we saw burned cars, deserted houses, and burned down homes. There was a huge armed presence and several checkpoints,” Yousif told us.

Of the 38 residents of Malek that we met on a visit in 2013, just 13 now remain the village. Families have been separated as many people are still living on a nearby island across the river Nile. One of the residents we met in 2013 was Rachel Aluong Joh.

“I have lost my son during the crisis. I have not managed to see his grave,” she said.

Rachel went on to tell Yousif about the death of Mary Nydiang Chuck.

“We heard gunshots all over, and some armed men came running into our place. One young man was so angry; all of a sudden he started shooting randomly and it was unfortunate that Mary was shot and died. There were no young men to bury her – we were not able to dig a grave for her’’.

Rachel Aluong Joh, standing, speaks about the impact of the conflict on her community.
Rachel Aluong Joh, standing, speaks about the impact of the conflict on her community.

Yousif was able to provide some food to the community, but they still have many needs – food, blankets, cooking utensils and fishing nets so they can catch fish from the nearby river. There are no nearby healthcare facilities, and many people require medicines, bandages and dressings for the wounds that can be caused by lack of adequate self-care in people affected by leprosy. We will be providing food aid in the near future, and will continue to support those affected by leprosy as they attempt to rebuild their lives. World Refugee Day is a day to reflect not just on those displaced in South Sudan, but the many people affected by leprosy worldwide whose lives have been made even more challenging and fraught with danger as a result of conflict.

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Hope for South Sudan

Madelina and Rebecca, who are responsible for caring for their grandmother who is disabled as a result of leprosy.
Madelina and Rebecca outside their home

How much do you know about South Sudan, the world’s newest country? When the area previously known as Southern Sudan became an independent state in 2011, there was much rejoicing from its people, who had been affected by civil war for many years. But almost two years on, there are many issues still affecting the country and its inhabitants. Leprosy is just one of these.

South Sudan is one of the 18 countries reporting more than 1,000 new cases of leprosy every year, and detection rates have also been rising there. We are in the process of developing new projects and have been identifying other issues affecting communities there, including extreme poverty, lack of access to education and healthcare, poor housing and sanitation facilities, and lack of clean water.

Head of Programmes Coordination Sian Arulanantham visited South Sudan this month in order to carry out planning work with communities there, including a leprosy colony near Juba, the country’s capital city. One of the people she met on her visit was 11-year-old Madelina, who along with her sister Rebecca, seven, cares for her grandmother who is disabled as a result of leprosy.

Madelina and her family are living in a shack that provides inadequate shelter from the elements, and are desperate to secure land rights as well as the support to build a new house and toilet. Her grandmother, Jane, cannot work due to her disabilities so their only income is from begging. She is keen for Madelina and Rebecca to have better opportunities and a better life, so the family eat just one meal a day in order to pay for the girls to attend school.

Madelina loves to learn, but the cost of school fees and uniform means her education is always under threat. Most of the children in the community are not attending school at all.

“We are trapped in a circle of darkness, unable to see the light,” said Chief Charles Duba, describing life in the colony. He explained that limited medical supplies mean that people cannot care for wounds and ulcers caused by leprosy, and that they cannot afford footwear to prevent injuries. When added to the issues caused by hunger, poor sanitation, and insufficient housing, life seems desperate.

This is why the work we do and the generosity of our supporters is so vital, and why we are committing to making changes in the lives of people affected by leprosy in South Sudan. As we begin to put these plans into place, we’re praying that lives will be transformed.

Read more about our work in South Sudan and Sian’s visits there in 2012.

Work starts

We follow Siân Arulanantham, Head of Programmes Co-ordination as she visits South Sudan to identify leprosy issues within the country and create a strategy for progress.

DAY 3 – Work starts

I spent a rather hot and stuffy night under my mosquito net as my fan clicked off at 10.30pm due to a power shortage. Power shortages are a big issue in South Sudan as fuel has to be imported into the country. Right now there is a shortage so electricity is limited. The guest house generator can only be used for short periods of time. No power means no lighting, fan, or internet connection. Which means I’m left to rely on laptop batteries and my windup torch.  It also means that once the water in the storage tank is used, there is no more water as the electric pump is needed to pump more out of the borehole. What’s more there is also no mirror in the room and I forgot to pack one, so it looks like it will be a week of bad hair days and no make-up. It’s time to adapt to a different lifestyle and ban people from taking photos of me!

I soon learnt that the electricity was back on, so laptop, camera, etc. needed to be put on to charge and I used the time to send all the emails that were sitting in my outbox, if the strength of the connection allowed.  Pace of life slowed down and limited connection with the outside world meant that even text messages often did not get through.

However, learning from my colleagues in Sudan about the challenges of being a Christian working in an Islamic country soon put power shortages into context; as did learning more about life in South Sudan and the limitations of basic services like health care, education, roads and transportation. It was time to count my blessings.  We had a good day discussing issues that had arisen, planning solutions and clarifying the methodologies we will use in tomorrow’s stakeholder workshop.

Then the rain came. And when it rains, does it rain!  The guest house does not have a dining room, so food is served in a big tent, with holes in it.  To get to the tent from the meeting room, you have to walk (or run in this case) across a muddy compound. We were soaking and eating under the drips!  After a dinner of mutton (goat) and rice it was time to climb under the mosquito net with my laptop and prepare for tomorrow, that was until the battery ran out!