On June 27, I met Raja, a refugee who had recently fled Sudan’s Nuba Mountains and made her way to the South Sudanese capital of Juba. Originally from Kauda, she has lived in a state of violence since fighting broke out between the Sudanese army and rebels just over a year ago. She had worked for an international organization but has been unemployed since the attacks started, struggling with her family and friends to find enough food.
A large reason for Raja’s journey to South Sudan was to try to find the payments for her job that had been stalled as a result of the fighting. Another reason is the threat of indiscriminate aerial bombardments by the Sudanese air force. Just last week, she told me, a girl had been killed by a bomb while trying to plant seeds in a field. Such bombings are one of the reasons the food crisis has gotten so bad, as few were willing or able to plant much-needed crops during last year’s planting season.
Raja is not alone in fleeing the violence and lack of food in the distant Nuba Mountains, nor is she alone in traveling as far south as the South Sudanese capital of Juba. Over 100,000 refugees have fled into South Sudan and, according to another Nuba woman who is part of a refugee council set up here in the capital, some 5,000 refugees have made it all the way to Juba. This is up from some 2,000 refugees six months ago.
It is still a small amount compared to the tens of thousands of refugees in camps closer to the border and the 350,000 displaced and severely affected still living within South Kordofan and Blue Nile. But, it is a reminder of how far the effects of the violence and blockade of food aid by the Sudanese government are reaching.
Despite the obstacles, Raja told me how she plans to go back. It is as much a feeling of hopelessness that motivates her, as a desire to return home to family and familiar surroundings. In a grim summary of the trials that face even those who make it to relative safety, she tells me, “I have no house or anyone here.”
As I prepare for another attempt to visit the refugee camps along the Sudan-South Sudan border, I realize that many of those refugees had already made it to me. And, despite the threats of bombing and hunger, and the challenges of the rainy season, many just want to go home.