man putting sticks together for tent frame

Gumbo and his family fled South Sudan. They are among those who reached a neighboring place of temporary shelter. — ACT photo by Paul Jeffrey

This year, your gifts through PDA have helped support a humanitarian response to violence in Malakal, South Sudan, in partnership with the Presbyterian Relief and Development Agency (PRDA), the humanitarian arm of the Presbyterian Church of South Sudan. The mission of PRDA, established in 1993, is “to carry out community based relief, rehabilitation and development activities that meet and address the overall social and physical needs of the people of Sudan.”

Conflict that began in Juba in December 2013 quickly spread among other states, killing 10,000 and displacing a million people from their homes.  Among the affected communities was Malakal in the Upper Nile State, where PRDA has a presence and wanted to offer assistance. The goal was to reach 2,000 affected people, including those who were displaced and injured, with food, blankets, cooking utensils, and emergency supplies.

Behind the years of war and statistics are people whose lives have been forever changed. Some fled the country, including Nyagnet and her seven children.

A Long Walk to Safety: story of an asylum seeker from South Sudan

February 11, 2014

The armed conflict in South Sudan has left nearly 900,000 people uprooted since the battles began, and the violence continues unabated despite the agreement to cease hostilities on 23rd of January 2014. One of the most fought over towns is Malakal, the capital of oil-producing northern Upper Nile state.

The battles in the key oil-town have been raging since the beginning of the armed hostilities, forcing the masses of civilian population to flee after being caught in between the warring parties.

One of those people forced to flee into the unknown is Nyagnet Req, the mother of seven children who have been residing in the town of Malakal. On January 13, 2014, her life shattered.

On that day, which she can only describe as “the worst day of her life,” she went to a nearby river to fetch water for her household consumption as part of her every day routine. As she was returning home with a bucket of water on her head, she witnessed the disaster that had struck her home town. She has no words to explain the situation, the expression of sheer sadness and anguish voice her devastation. The town was taken over by heavy armed fighting.

two sisters

Sisters Rachel and Adjar also fled the violence. Photo by Mai Gad, ACT/DCA/LWF

Gun shots flew through the air as parents ran around gathering their children. Nyagnet has only blurred memories of the speed with which she ran to her house, collected her seven children and rushed to escape the warfare in the town.

The next day, she was on her way to a town called Nasir, travelling on foot and carrying her three sons and four daughters. After four days of travel they finally arrived at Nasir. There they stayed for two days, exhausted by the journey and in need of rest.

The Req family then continued walking for another two days and reached the Ethiopian border town of Matar, which received a refugee influx of 29,000 in the past month.

The border between Ethiopia and South Sudan is demarcated by a string of rivers, which asylum seekers must cross by swimming or in overcrowded boats. The boat crossings are notoriously dangerous; already one boat has capsized in the White Nile River, claiming over 200 victims trying to flee the warfare in Malakal.

To reach Ethiopia for safety, crowds of South Sudanese trying to escape the violence are swimming across the crocodile infested Sobat/Baro River.

At Matar, Nyagnet and her children stayed for one day. However, she and her son became ill from the unsafe water consumed there. On January 23 the Req family was relocated to the nearby Lietchor camp - a site planned by UNHCR and the Administration of Refugee and Returnee Affairs (ARRA) with capacity to host 20,000 refugees.

Overwhelmed by the influx of the arriving South Sudanese, the aid community is striving to provide assistance; the Lietchor camp establishment has begun with the construction of modest temporary shelters and basic sanitation facilities. When Nyagnet is asked about her current needs in the camp, food and safe water are foremost on her list of basic necessities.

Nyagnet has lost the contact with her husband, who was working for the government in road construction. She has no knowledge of his whereabouts since the clashes broke out.

Family separation is one of the prevalent results of the current conflict in South Sudan. Women and children have been hit disproportionately hard by the conflict; with majority of those fleeing the fighting being women and children, protection issues are amounting. The violent events over the last months have placed those most vulnerable at grave risk.

Despite the recent agreement of cessation of hostilities between the warring forces in South Sudan, the situation remains volatile. With livelihoods and infrastructure destroyed back in South Sudan, exacerbated by fears of further fighting, it does not seem likely that stability can be established any time soon. UNHCR and other aid workers are anticipating further displacement both within and beyond the borders of South Sudan.

Given the rate and magnitude of the destruction, the government’s lack of resources to assist and the on-going clashes, the conflict is feared to be leading to a long-term humanitarian crisis with an increasing risk of disease outbreaks.

If and when they return, the South Sudanese refugees can expect very little to return to. The months of raging conflict have taken their toll on families and entire communities of origin.

With houses and livelihoods destroyed, the rebuilding of a life in a fragile country teetering in its newly established independence will require immense efforts, from macro to micro level.

This year PDA also supported a gathering of 30 Presbyterian Church leaders from East Africa, including Malakal and Juba.  One objective of the meeting was to discuss how the Church can chart a way forward in helping bring peace in the nation of South Sudan, hoping to attain a lasting solution to the current crisis. Leaders also received training in trauma healing, including how to provide spiritual care for war survivors and psychosocial care intervention for those who have been traumatized.

In a brief statement by the General Secretary of the Presbyterian Church of South Sudan during the gathering, Rev. John Yor shared, “Our being here today is not our own making but, by God’s grace that we are able to be alive through hardship and sufferings we have experienced since December 2013.”

Among the goals, Rev. Yor stated the inclusion of: encouraging the peace process, mobilizing communities for forgiveness and reconciliation; starting a societal healing through psychosocial counselling for traumatized people; initiating prayer throughout the country as a petition for God’s intervention; and developing ways and means to address the needs of those affected, including food, non-food items, shelter, sanitation, etc.

Please continue to pray for church leaders, families, and communities in the relatively new nation of South Sudan, that home will be a place of peace and healing, and together they will find the hope of Christ evident.

A Long Walk to Safety: story of an asylum seeker from South Sudan was provided by ACT Alliance member Lutheran World Federation.  PDA is also responding in South Sudan as a member of ACT (Actions by Churches Together) Alliance.


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