× Dismiss

Never Miss an Update.

News Deeply will use the information you provide to send you newsletter updates and other announcements. See our privacy policy for more.

Refugees Deeply is designed to help you understand the complex web of geopolitical, human rights, environmental, legal and other factors combining to make the refugee issue one of the most challenging of our lifetimes. Our editors and expert contributors are working around the clock to bring you greater clarity and comprehensive coverage.

Sign up to our newsletter to receive our weekly updates, special reports, and featured insights as we widen the lens on this critical – and quintessentially human – issue.

Strife Follows Blue Nile Refugees Across Border

In part two of our story, the Blue Nile’s refugees, who vastly outnumber the host community in Maban, find themselves in a precarious situation, with meager sources of sustenance for both the refugees and hosts and a highly militarized environment.

Written by Amanda Sperber Published on Read time Approx. 7 minutes
At least 80 percent of the cases dealt with by MSF in their refugee clinic in Maban are children. Here, a new baby has been born healthy to a mother from Blue Nile. With no end to the conflict in sight, babies are born in limbo into a rootless world of displacement.Ashley Hamer

Part 1 of the story has been published here.

Born Amid Turmoil

After Mustra successfully crossed the border heavily pregnant, she gave birth in Maban to her twins, who just like their 11 older siblings born in the Blue Nile region entered the world amid chaos.

The civil war that erupted in South Sudan in 2013 gave rise to local militias across the country, including in Maban. The conflict also added to the scarcity of basic supplies, as ground battles kept the Mabanese from cultivating their land. Given that both government and opposition armies are infamous for looting aid delivery trucks and even killing the drivers, assistance is feasible only through air-drops, which cost up to $2 million per flight.

 The refugees vastly outnumber the Mabanese host community, who are not entitled to the same aid assistance. There is competition for available land and resources. (Ashley Hamer)

The refugees vastly outnumber the Mabanese host community, who are not entitled to the same aid assistance. There is competition for available land and resources. (Ashley Hamer)

“The host community in Maban was vulnerable prior to the arrival of refugees from Sudan, with high levels of poverty preventing many from meeting their basic needs, including access to safe drinking water, sanitation and healthcare,” reads a 2015 report from UNHCR. “In addition, refugees arrived at a time when the host community was unable to produce enough food even for themselves.”

Those like Mustra fleeing hunger and conflict have found themselves in a land that is just as insecure. They are reluctant guests in communities that are equally reluctant to host them. The fractious relationships between the different armed groups have created a precarious situation for both the refugees and hosts.

The food rations cuts in 2015 are escalating tensions and forcing an increasing number of refugees to return to conflict-riven Blue Nile in search of sources of food and income. (Ashley Hamer)

The food rations cuts in 2015 are escalating tensions and forcing an increasing number of refugees to return to conflict-riven Blue Nile in search of sources of food and income. (Ashley Hamer)

Maban is governed by the SPLA, a former rebel group that now comprises South Sudan’s government forces. The forces have been accused of organized campaigns of rape, looting and torture as they barrel their way through a civil war that is allegedly ending but with little respite or stability for civilians.

In November 2015, bombs fell on the border, close to the Maban refugee and host communities. Two women were killed and 15-year-old Jima Pame was badly injured by shrapnel. He was brought to the only referral hospital in all Upper Nile state, where he spent four months recovering. (Ashley Hamer)

In November 2015, bombs fell on the border, close to the Maban refugee and host communities. Two women were killed and 15-year-old Jima Pame was badly injured by shrapnel. He was brought to the only referral hospital in all Upper Nile state, where he spent four months recovering. (Ashley Hamer)

Police and national security forces also roam the area, which has devolved into semi-autonomous fiefdoms with their own agendas.

The Maban Defense Force (MDF) is made up of 5,000 people armed by the government in 2014. It is charged with defending the local population from the perceived threat of the SPLA-IO, the opposition army fighting a civil war against the South Sudanese government, which is a mere 25 miles (40km) south of Bunj town, the center of Maban.

Though the MDF technically integrated into South Sudan’s government forces in 2015, according to Pau Vidal, the project director of Jesuit Refugee Service in Maban, there are indications the group still operates independently.

Graffiti scrawled on the wall of a school building in Doro refugee camp, Maban. The school was closed and occupied for most of 2015 by a battalion of several hundred soldiers during South Sudan's civil war. (Ashley Hamer)

Graffiti scrawled on the wall of a school building in Doro refugee camp, Maban. The school was closed and occupied for most of 2015 by a battalion of several hundred soldiers during South Sudan’s civil war. (Ashley Hamer)

Finally, the Sudanese rebel army, the Sudan People’s Liberation Army – North (SPLA-N), formerly the SPLA – has a big presence, so much so that one of the training camps is less than 10 miles (16km) away. Many of the families of the soldiers reside in the camp, and many refugees came with their own guns for self-defense. It is widely known that the SPLA-N recruits young men from the camps in Maban and brings them over the penetrable border to fight for them. The SPLA-N says that they are demilitarizing the camp by taking armed deserters back to the war.

The refugees and the host community have a tense relationship because of the lack of resources.

“Life isn’t good because of the host community,” says Awad Citho, one of the local leaders of the refugees at Doro. The local Mabanese community has allegedly killed more than 100 people from Blue Nile in fights over resources, mainly over land that can be cultivated and firewood.

Citho acknowledges that both sides are to blame for the violence, which, he says, is often prompted by a grievous need for sustenance. He admits that his people do steal farm animals from the host community. But when he catches them in the act, he takes them to the police.

Most of the refugees came in an influx when the conflict erupted in Blue Nile in 2011. (Ashley Hamer)

Most of the refugees came in an influx when the conflict erupted in Blue Nile in 2011. (Ashley Hamer)

“Those people, they come with all their guns. All this camp is full of guns. And that is maybe what makes them bring bad things,” Isaiah Nagwara the leader of the Umdas (community heads) in Maban, says, referring to the refugees.

The levels of tension between the hosts and refugees exacerbated when the World Food Program (WFP) cut food rations last August by 30 percent, forcing the refugees to depend more on Mabanese resources to survive. Many refugees are so hungry they are eating leaves from trees. The WFP provides assistance to the refugees and the 17,000 displaced South Sudanese, but does not have the capacity also to assist the host population. This leaves the locals, who are equally desperate, feeling spurned by the international community. Given this equation, cultivatable land, firewood and food are all the more precious and access to them has caused further political and social strife between the two groups.

Today, swathes of rebel-held Blue Nile are depopulated and cannot recover until people are safe to return. (Ashley Hamer)

Today, swathes of rebel-held Blue Nile are depopulated and cannot recover until people are safe to return. (Ashley Hamer)

“We have a very complex situation that needs to be solved,” says Adan Ilmi, who heads the UNHCR’s operations in Maban.

But Ilmi does not expect help from Juba, the capital of South Sudan. Instead, he meets with leaders from the host and refugee communities. “We don’t see much decisions coming from Juba because the country is having lots of challenges within itself, so local [leadership] is better,” he explains.

Many of the Mabanese, even Umdas such as Nagwara, are no strangers to refugee life. Nagwara lived in Ethiopia from 1987 to 2005 when the first civil war in present-day southern Sudan was raging. He says the camp in Ethiopia where he stayed was nothing like the camps in Maban. Security was very tight. Here in Maban, everyone has guns, he points out.

Peace has evaded both the refugees and the local communities, which are forced to cohabit in an area seized by conflict and hunger. (Ashley Hamer)

Peace has evaded both the refugees and the local communities, which are forced to cohabit in an area seized by conflict and hunger. (Ashley Hamer)

Nagwara acknowledges that the influx of people from Blue Nile has brought jobs, a hospital and more schools. Yet he describes his life as “worse off” since the refugees arrived.

“If you kill my people, it doesn’t work. It’s better I would just send you away,” he contends. His sentiments echo through the host community that is fighting for its own survival and cannot shoulder the burden of the newcomers.

Buambi Una from the southern Blue Nile gave birth to twin boys a month ago in the MSF refugee clinic in Maban. Her babies were born at fewer than 32 weeks and weighed less than 2lb (1kg) each. According to MSF nurses in the ward, it is extremely rare for premature twins of this small size to survive. (Ashley Hamer)

Buambi Una from the southern Blue Nile gave birth to twin boys a month ago in the MSF refugee clinic in Maban. Her babies were born at fewer than 32 weeks and weighed less than 2lb (1kg) each. According to MSF nurses in the ward, it is extremely rare for premature twins of this small size to survive. (Ashley Hamer)

 

 

 

Some content here

× Dismiss
We have updated our Privacy Policy with a few important changes specific to General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) and our use of cookies. If you continue to use this site, you consent to our use of cookies. Read our full Privacy Policy here.

Become a Contributor.

Have a story idea? Interested in adding your voice to our growing community?

Learn more