South Sudan: Conducting Research at a Refugee Camp

In South Sudan, fighting triggered by political conflict has persisted since December 2013. As a result of the fighting between the ethnic groups of Kiir's Dinka and Nuer, thousands have been killed, 700,000 have been internally displaced, and 130,000 have fled abroad. <UNOCHA (United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs) 2014/2/3>

With an aim to provide emergency assistance, Naoki UMEDA and Daijo TSUCHIKAWA from AAR’s South Sudan office have been conducting research since February 3 at the Kakuma refugee camp.  Located in the northwest of Kenya, it has been flooded with refugees. This report is written by Naoki UMEDA.

Established in 1992, the Kakuma refugee camp is the largest refugee camp in the world with approximately 100,000 refugees. Buses operated by UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) arrive at Kakuma camp daily with refugees who have fled to Nadapal, Kenya, located along the South Sudan border. 

On average, the camp accepts 400 refugees daily. After taking vaccines and completing refugee registration in Nadapal, the refugees are then taken to Kakuma by bus, where they spend the first night at the temporary tent area beside the reception center. 

New arrivals are given some food, a mat and a blanket to spend the first night at this temporary accommodation (Kakuma, Kenya, February 3rd, 2014) 

Local NGOs build 100 to 200 tents every day for the new arrivals. The number of incoming refugees has increased rapidly since the end of 2013 and the tent supply has failed to keep up with this pace. The number of temporary tents next to the reception center is now twice the number of what was initially planned. 

Need Milk for My Child: Childbirth While Fleeing the Conflict

A 28-year-old woman, Tabitha (center) and her one-month-old son (on her lap). She managed to get to the camp after giving birth whilst fleeing from the conflict. (Kakuma, Kenya, February 4th, 2014)
Bor, the state capital of Jonglei located in the east of South Sudan has turned into a fierce battleground due to the recent conflict. Ms. Tabitha Adoku Watch (28) went into labor while fleeing from Bor and gave birth at a hospital in the national capital, Juba. On the fourth day after her delivery, she left Juba for a safer place with her mother, her four children and her sister's family.  Although they reached Kakuma a few days later, only her husband continues fighting the battle in South Sudan.

On February 3, she was given a tent inside the refugee camp. However, under the cover of darkness on the same night, the tent was attacked by a robber who tried to take away a part of the structure. Fortunately, with the help of her family, she was unhurt, and told us later about her experience: "It was terrifying."

Now having left everything behind, she has absolutely no belongings and no food. She said, "I'm just relieved to be somewhere safe. But the conflict between Dinka and Nuer is still present here at Kakuma refugee camp. As Dinka, we can’t even draw water safely." She also noted, "I need milk for my child. They provide food here but infants like my son cannot eat solid food."

For Our Children's Future, We Are Not Returning Home

Mr. Peter Majok, (in his 30s) who also came from Bor, is from the Dinka ethnic group. He worked as a carpenter and also ran a store in his hometown before he fled to the camp with his family and relatives. As he took a boat to flee the fighting, he tells us that some boats were shot by Nuer and sank in the water, while some people, driven by fear, dived into the river.

After driving from Juba to Nimule near the Ugandan border, he left his family and relatives in Nimule and visited some refugee camps in Uganda on his own, only to find out that they provided nothing other than the minimum supply of tents. With no food or life support, he concluded that he and his family and relatives wouldn’t be able to survive in the Ugandan camps, and so decided to come to the Kakuma refugee camp.

Fighting back tears, Peter (left), who lost his brother in the fighting, told us how he got to the camp with nine children, including his own and his late brother's. (Kakuma, Kenya, February 3rd, 2014. Pictured on the right is AAR staff, Naoki UMEDA.)

Kakuma, however, is also still suffering from harsh conditions. Peter spent nine days in the temporary tent area beside the reception center before moving to his own tent in the camp. He explained, "There's a lack of water. I have gone more than a day with no water. Due to the feud between ethnic groups, people are fighting over water." He continued, "Three of our kids have suffered malaria and diarrhea since we got here. Our infant son seems to have gotten an eye infection. He keeps crying and seems to be in pain.” His distress was clearly evident in his expression.

"We are never going back to South Sudan," he stated. “Because of the civil war for the country's independence, I only attended primary school for the first three years. I lost my father in the civil war and my brother in the ongoing conflict. If we returned home, my children would have to go through the same thing. Here, they can attend school (in Kakuma refugee camp). I have to be the backbone of the family now that my father and my brother have passed away. I am responsible for the future of our children, and we are never returning home."

AAR staff, Daijo TSUCHIKAWA asking the leader of the reception center at Kakuma refugee camp about the influx of refugees. (February 3rd, 2014)
Tent housing is being built at Kakuma refugee camp at a fast pace in response to the influx of refugees. (February 4th, 2014)

AAR plans to continue its research and provide basic water supply and other necessities. Activity reports will be updated on the AAR website. We appreciate your support.

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South Sudan office: Naoki UMEDA
AAR Japan South Sudan Office: Naoki UMEDA has worked in AAR’s South Sudan office since August 2011. After graduating junior college, she majored in development studies and African studies at a British university. She then joined AAR Japan after working at a private enterprise and doing volunteer work in Uganda. Her hometown is in Aichi.