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In South Sudan, A Former Refugee Is Tired of Life In Camps

People carrying boxes of food assistance on their heads leave a WFP food distribution at a UN compound in Juba.

Photo copyright: WFP/George Fominyen

WFP is providing food assistance to tens of thousands of people who have fled fighting in South Sudan, with many seeking shelter in UN peacekeeping compounds. Bitiim is one of the internally displaced persons who received assistance from WFP. He says the camp he is staying in reminds him of his life as a refugee before South Sudan became independent, and all he wants now is peace so he can leave the camp in safety.

JUBA – When fighting erupted in Juba in mid-December, Bitiim, his wife and children fled their home to seek refuge at the UN Mission in South Sudan compound in Jebel, and area on the west side of Juba.

After his country became the world’s newest nation in 2011, the 35-year-old never expected that he would need to flee his home for a displaced persons camp. Being an internally displaced person (IDP) in a sprawling site of makeshift shelters brought back memories of times in his life he thought he had left in the distant past.

“At the age of 9, I fled on foot to Ethiopia in 1987 during the civil war. From Ethiopia I went by foot to Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya, where I lived for 10 years,” Bitiim said.

“It is very unfortunate that at the age of 35 I have to start running again and end up as a refugee (IDP) in my homeland,” he added with a note of melancholy in his voice.

Fighting erupted on 15 December in Juba between rival factions of the South Sudanese army.  For several days afterward, heavy fighting in Juba occurred mainly in the overnight hours, with some heavy clashes during the day.  The violence rapidly spread to several other parts of the country.

According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), by 31 December about 180,000 people had fled their homes with up to 75,000 of them sheltering in UN peacekeeping bases.

“Our situation is beyond description. We brought in a small amount of food with us which finished after two or three days. But luckily we got some support from WFP and we are grateful for that,” Bitiim said after collecting a seven-day food ration for his family.

WFP has been distributing food to South Sudanese civilians who have fled recent violence in the country. Food distributions began on 22 December, and had by the last day of December reached more than 50,000 people in Juba (Central Equatoria State), Bentiu (Unity State), Mingkam (Lakes State), Mabior (Jonglei State) and Malakal (Upper Nile State).

“We are witnessing an unfortunate humanitarian disaster. WFP is doing its utmost to provide assistance to these people, whose livelihoods have been disrupted by this crisis,” said Chris Nikoi, the WFP South Sudan Country Director.

WFP is being assisted in its distributions by ACTED, OXFAM, Save the Children, Concern Worldwide, Mercy Corps and Joint Aid Management (JAM).

“I feel ashamed to be an IDP in my own country. I really feel very sad,” he said. “Sometimes I think maybe I should run to Kakuma again.  But how can I go to become a refugee again only two years after my country had independence?”

“My appeal is that they (politicians) should look at ways to dialogue so we can return to our normal lives. This young nation needs all of us to develop.”