With their South Sudan village reduced to a ghost town, Sarah Manyang and her children face an uncertain future in Uganda.
Sarah Manyang’s hopes for South Sudan began to shatter on the night of December 15, 2013 as she followed the rising death toll when government and opposition forces clashed in Juba.
When I heard of the Juba attack I felt a little hopeless, but I believed that the fighting would end there. I had no idea it would reach me in my home town,” says the 24 year old.
I don’t ever want to return to South Sudan because I can’t trust any leader anymore. My people are not ready to stop fighting and I have already tasted the pain of war.”Two days later, when the rebels attacked Bor, I was in shock. I didn’t know what was going on or why people were fighting. I stayed calm and waited for another chance to hear the announcement of peace, but it was all in vain. That was when I broke down in tears.”
For weeks she tried to work out how to escape with her children. But moving around in Jonglei, South Sudan’s biggest state, was risky: The entire area had become a battleground between government soldiers and opposition forces, with control of Bor switching hands four times in three weeks.
Ever since her husband died in the 21-year civil war, she had hoped of living in peace with her children, she says. But that dream proved short-lived.
Finally in January, Sarah and her children escaped the violence in Jonglei, fleeing to Juba, and then Nimule. I made it with my kids to this camp here in Uganda,” she says.
Since she left her hometown, Bor has become a ghost town. Many buildings were burnt to the ground and others were looted and left as charred ruins. An estimated 2,000 people have been killed either in the settlement or while attempting to flee. The rest of the town’s 350,000 population left.
Before the conflict, Sarah scraped by, supporting her young children by working as a tea vendor. She took her limited funds with her when she fled and set up a small restaurant inside Nyumanzi refugee settlement in Adjumani District, northern Uganda.
According to United Nations estimates, more than a million South Sudanese people have been displaced during the fighting. Many refugees in Ugandan settlements say they are scared to return home because of reports about ethnic violence.
These days, Sarah and her three children face an uncertain future. She might stay in Uganda, which would likely mean joining the growing number of South Sudanese living in informal settlements in the poorest neighbourhoods, precarious places where there are no services and the municipal authorities are only nominally in control. Alternatively, she dreams of moving to the USA.
But Sarah is certain on one count: She could not imagine moving back to South Sudan. Her hopes have been dashed, for good, she says. I don’t ever want to return to South Sudan because I can’t trust any leader anymore. My people are not ready to stop fighting and I have already tasted the pain of war.”