Civilians seeking refuge at the UN base in Bor. (UN Photo)

By Nangayi Guyson

 Kampala, Uganda – Since the deadly fighting broke out in South Sudan in mid-December 2013, following what the government called a “failed coup attempt”, organized by former Vice president Riek Machar, the UN estimates that about 10000 people have lost their lives, some 413,000 people have been internally displaced, with more than 86,000 seeking  refuge in neighboring countries. The big number of those refugees who fled has been seen in Uganda according to United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. The country now hosts 46,579 South Sudanese refugees, Ethiopia hosts 20,624, and Kenya at about 8,900. At the Dzaipi transit centre in Adjumani District in northern Uganda, there are records of at least 1000 south Sudanese entering the country.

However, as they (refugees) continue to entre the country, the experience they went through before reaching Uganda are the stories they can tell now.  This media spoke to those who were affected and they shared their horrifying moments.

In Kampala, we got up with Dimity Akech who was trapped in the fighting in south Sudan’s capital juba when it was attacked. Dimiti says when the fighting started -the situation in Juba was terrible and what she did was to start walking towards the South Sudan- Uganda border post of Elegu looking for safety after losing her children and the husband being killed.

Dimity, who now stays with relatives in Uganda’s capital Kampala narrates how it all happened about her life in South Sudan “I remember it was about 4:00am when everyone was trying to escape after men in Military uniform attacked our residence and started ordering everyone to get out. They started shooting at us. I saw women men and children falling down after being shot. What I did was to remain down pretending I was already dead. I didn’t identify who they were.  My husband was shot and killed in cold blood when I was seeing; he was at a distance with our children. When this happened my children were shocked what they did was to run and I followed them after a shot time.”

“We were in a huge crowd walking and running as gunshots were heard. There were too many people fleeing. Others could be shot when we are seeing but my prayer was, God help me, let me not die. At first, we moved together with many people and my children but then we again landed in an ambush of soldiers who shot at us, I lost them and I only found them in the refugee Camp in Elegu, in northern Uganda after searching for them for four days. The children are a boy aged 14 and a girl of 12.” As she talks, her eyes gets full of tears, she remembers how her children suffered. Dimity fled on 28 December 2013, she shared her experience. 

Dimity is not only the luckier refugees having now made it over the border to the safety of Uganda but there are many others who managed to cross into Uganda and just like her; they also have stories to tell.

 “I ran through cross fire”

Arop Irene, was also trapped when government forces attacked Bor, Jonglei trying to retake it. “I will not forget what I passed through before reaching here in Uganda. I have never imagined that would happen to me, I used to see such things in movies. Seeing people running through exchange of fire but I also ran through cross fire when government forces attacked Bor, Jonglei trying to retake it. This experienced has left a mark on the whole of my life.

“Government troops stormed our village. Tanks; trucks carrying men with AK-47s and other heavy guns were everywhere. It was around 5pm. The whole place was paralyzed. We were in the fix, we had nothing to do but run. There were some rebel remnants in the area but we don’t know. We run back passing through tanks and trucks as troops were in cross fire the rebels.

“As we run through, I saw men, children and women lying onto the ground in pools of blood, some motionless, others groaning in pain calling for help but helping wasn’t a better idea because it could cost our lives also. We ran but I could hear the sounds of bullets passing over my head.

“We decided to seek refuge in a small bush after running like three 3 kilo meters away from the village. Majority of us where wounded but I had small injuries, we luck we got moved again for only 1km and found a track carrying other people wounded to the hospital in Juba and that is when I decided that I should try my luck to juba and then to Kampala.”

I have to go back to Juba and work”

Jackline Kumbo, like others, she also narrates how she fled and she is forced to go back and work to take of her Children the husband abandoned her with. “I have children I look after. Though, it is not a good idea to go back south Sudan where I fled the fighting, I have to go back and work because it is the only option I have at the moment. If I don’t work, what will my children eat? Where will they get school fees? My husband abandoned me with four children, my first daughter has just finished senior four, another daughter in senior three and the two small boys are in primary school. I have rented a small room in Kampala where they all stay. The older daughter is the one looking after the young siblings. 

I fled the fighting just five days after Juba was attacked. Everything I had is south Sudan, there is no way I could carry them to Uganda as it was hard to cross the border with a luggage  and I don’t know wither I will get them.”

Ceasefire agreement signed

The South Sudan government and rebels on Thursday last week signed the ceasefire agreement after talks in Ethiopia but UN says there is still fighting in some areas where rebels occupy.

Political analysts say though the agreement was signed, there is still a problem if the issue of 11 detainees – allies of rebel leader Riek Machar and prominent political figures are not released, the fighting may not stop.  Both Mr Kiir and Riek Machar have supporters from across South Sudan’s ethnic divides and there will still remain fighting with rebels targeting Dinka and soldiers going after Nuers ethnic group.

According to UNHCR, more than 100,000 South Sudanese have fled to neighbouring Uganda, Ethiopia, Kenya and Sudan since mid-December. Inside South Sudan, some 490,000 people are at present internally displaced, including 75,000 civilians seeking refuge and protection on UN bases.