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Real life tales: Three women on the move

Esther Muwombi
The Niles corespondent Esther Muwombi visited the Nyumanzi refugee settlement and spoke to three women about their life on the move.
21.05.2014  |  Adjumani
Sarah Manyang (left), Elizabeth Yal and Rebbeca Ajak in the Nyumanzi refugee settlement, April 29.
Sarah Manyang (left), Elizabeth Yal and Rebbeca Ajak in the Nyumanzi refugee settlement, April 29.

Rebecca Ajak’s story

Loud grenades and gunfire prompted Rebecca Ajak to run for refuge.

Had she known this was going to happen, she wouldn’t have left her comfortable life in Khartoum to settle back home in South Sudan after independence.

Rebecca had been married to a South Sudanese man in Khartoum who was serving in the Sudanese Liberation Army. When peace returned to South Sudan, her husband continued in the army while she and the kids returned to the south.

I left my husband in Khartoum because I believed in my country and what it had achieved on Independence Day. It is not an easy thing for a woman to do, but this is how much I loved my country,” she said.

Unless I see all South Sudanese unarmed and my safety assured, I will never return home.”
Rebecca Ajak
Ajak had been given a stark choice: Either return to South Sudan and never access north Sudan again, except as a foreigner who would have to pay for a visa, or to remain and live with her husband in Khartoum forever. She chose the former.

I will never forget the afternoon my husband confronted me in love and with amazing courage to say bye to me. I don’t remember much of the conversation, but I do remember the words that broke my heart; ‘Go home to our new country and I will meet you there so that we can enjoy what we have been hoping for,’ he said to me.

These words gave me the courage to walk out of that door and leave my husband with hope that peace was going to reign where I was going. But as bullets flew over my town Bor in December last year, I closed my eyes and remembered how my husband had escorted me and the kids aboard a ship that was to sail us back to South Sudan as if never to see him again.

I realised that this was actually one end of an old forgotten marriage which indeed was,” she narrated, adding that they were now separated.

Rebbecca and her two children left for the Nyumanzi refugee settlement in Adjumani in January, joining a group of refugees fleeing the fighting in Bor. She had been staying in Juba at the UNMISS refugee camp but decided to go to the refugee camp in Uganda, amid rumours that Juba would be attacked again.

Rebecca, like many others, doesn’t believe there will ever be peace again in South Sudan. Unless I see all South Sudanese unarmed and my safety assured, I will never return home,” she said.

Elizabeths Yal’s story

Elizabeth Yal yearns to move to America.

A short and beautiful young woman with zero self-confidence, she is a long-running family joke because she has been single for so long since her husband passed away. And since the Dinka culture is that a widowed woman must get married to a man in the same family, Elizabeth now has no choice because all the men in her husband’s family have been killed.  

I only hope that America will pay me for something.”
Elizabeth Yal
Kic”, meaning commoner”, became her nickname at home and quickly caught on in the village and at her work place. Everyone thought she was clumsy and unattractive because of her height.

A 22-year-old young widow and mother, she sobbed out her confession that she would never return home even if peace is announced. A talented maker of all sorts of African fabric cloths, she has vowed to never make cloth again because she now considered herself damaged goods — because others have such low opinion of her, she doesn’t believe she can create anything worthwhile.

She wants to go to America because she wants to be accepted and appreciated — unlike her experience in South Sudan.
Alek Wek (the super model), one of our Dinka sister’s, has been accepted by the Americans as one of the most beautiful women in the world and today they are paying her for that. I only hope that America will pay me for something,” she said.

Sarah Manyang’s story

Sarah dreams of going to America but doesn’t know how to get there.

”I thought that I can just run into America with my children. I thought it’s at my country’s border like Uganda,” she said. I want to go to America because there is no fighting there. America seems to be a very nice country with many good people,” she added.

I think they are NGO workers and one day they will consider me into one of their programmes to relocate refugees.”
Sarah Manyang
Whenever I see white people passing by my restaurant at the camp, I call at them and beg them to take me with them to America but they just smile or speak to me in thorny English that I never get to understand. I think they are NGO workers and one day they will consider me into one of their programmes to relocate refugees.”

She says that her leaders lack the political zeal and capacity to steer the nation out of the conflict which has raged since last December.

Sarah and her children escaped the intense fighting in Bor, a city where many civilians were killed during extended clashes between government and rebel forces. Lucky to have escape along with her tea selling business, she has managed to start up a small restaurant inside Nyumanzi refugee settlement in Adjumani District, the camp she sought refugee from in northern Uganda.  She now employs her fellow refugees and fellow Dinkas Elizabeth Yal and Rebecca Ajak, who all fled Bor.

Backstory: Looming crisis

The Uganda Refugee Law project’s report South Sudan Crisis: Impact on Northern Uganda” points to looming conflicts with host communities on issues of land, sharing water points, school facilities and toilets. The Resident District Commissioner Adjumani and the District Police Commander of Adjumani have appealed to the government and UNCHR to relocate some refugees to Kiryandongo to reduce tension and avoid refugees encroaching on local communities land.

2014 UNHCR country operations profile - UgandaFrom 1960 to 2006, refugees in Uganda had no option but to live in settlements located in rural areas. Refugees were allocated plots for agricultural activities according to the Refugee Law Project in 2005. They had to obtain permission to leave the camp settlements and only few refugees were allowed to live in urban settings (those in need of healthcare, with security concern, pending resettlement or with proven self sufficiency). Those who did not fit with these restrictions got no assistance. Since 2006, the government has been allowing a very small number of refugees to settle in urban settings if they can afford to.

But the three women’s chances of moving to the USA are scant. Refugees rarely get permission to stay. They must prove that they are unable to return to their home country because they have been persecuted there in the past or have a well-founded fear that they will be persecuted if they go back or if they have been persecuted in connection to race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or their political opinion (