Over the last three years, the Upper Nile state in South Sudan has seen continuous conflict between government and opposition forces. This has forced many families to flee to Sudan’s more peaceful White Nile. Currently, six refugee camps host 83,000 people and many more live outside these designated zones.
Médecins Sans Frontières currently runs a 40-bed hospital in White Nile state. It is based just outside Al Kashafa camp where over 17,000 refugees have been allowed to settle. A wide range of services are provided in the inpatient and outpatient departments, the most common concerns relate to reproductive health issues, respiratory throat infections and malnutrition. Mary, a refugee from Kaka in South Sudan’s Upper Nile state, explained, “When the armed men came to Kaka they showed no mercy. Neither the young nor the old were spared. As soon as we heard that the killing had started we didn’t stop to think, we just ran from the village taking what we could carry. To pass through some of the military checkpoints we had to lie about the tribe we belonged to, otherwise we would have been stopped and the worst would have happened. We feel very lucky, as miraculously nobody was hurt.”
"As soon as we heard that the killing had started we didn’t stop to think, we just ran from the village taking what we could carry."
According to project coordinator Mohamed, “By far our biggest cause for concern is the sanitation and hygiene in the camp. People are living so closely together and there aren’t enough toilets and latrines. They are openly defecating near their shelters and their neighbours. There is a huge risk of multiple cases of measles or acute watery diarrhoea spreading throughout the community. Young children are particularly at risk as they play in these unsanitary conditions with their friends.” Médecins Sans Frontières is constructing latrines in two camps (Al Kashafa and Joury) to upgraded the sanitation standards as well as running community health promotion activities. The hospital also works as referral point for other camps and it is the only nutritional stabilisation centre in the area.
Life in the camps remains hard; while international NGOs are providing a basic education for children, for the adults there is little to do. Some try to eke out a small income by selling fish or trading in the local market. Others find work labouring on local farms. This enables their families to supplement their food rations and maybe save a little for a better life. The final outcome for these South Sudanese refugees will no doubt rely on the fighting at home. If things improve then many may go home. For now, this is only wishful thinking.