Six years after leaving a Kenyan refugee camp for his home in Sudan, where a 2005 accord was supposed to have put a permanent end to decades of civil war, David Aguer is back again, with his stepmother and six siblings.
“I can’t believe that the optimism is now gone and I don't know if we will have peace again. When I left [Kenya], I didn't know I would be back, but today, I am a refugee again,” Aguer, 27, told IRIN in the camp in Kakuma, which is soon set to surpass its capacity population.
Aguer was one of the founding residents of the camp, set up nine years into the war between Sudanese government forces and the southern Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA).
“I first came to Kakuma in 1992 when I was just seven years old and called it home - until I went back together with other young people. We went to school here in Kakuma and finished our schooling in Sudan. For me, being back here is nostalgia tinged with sadness,” Aguer said.
In March 2011, his home village, Tajalei, in the Abyei region, the locus of one of several disputes between Sudan and the now independent state of South Sudan, was destroyed in an attack by militias.
Like tens of thousands of Abyei residents Aguer’s family fled southwards to the border town of Agok as Sudanese forces moved into Abyei.
Recent weeks have seen an escalation of hostilities between Sudan and South Sudan.
In March 2011, Aguer's home village of Tajalei was attacked by a militia group which burnt down their huts, leaving them homeless. Rumours that the Sudanese army might attack Tajalei, Aguer told IRIN, prompted him and his family to move to Kenya.
“Recently there have been rumours that the Sudanese army might attack us there. I didn’t want to wait to see them kill us, so I convinced my stepmother that we move to Kenya where we can be safe,” he said.
“We walked for 30 days to arrive here and the children are now tired. My mother died here the last time we were refugees. Now we are waiting for registration to start a new life again.”
With a child on her back and four others clinging to her dress, Emily Akuol, 35, stands in line patiently waiting to see a registration official. For her, nothing has changed in Kakuma since she left it three years ago, except her circumstances and those of her children.
“They [her children] were beginning to get used to South Sudan, tilling our farms. Now they are back to the place where I gave birth to some of them. The children are now confused whether they are Kenyans or South Sudanese,” she told IRIN.
Her village, Wek, in Jonglei State, has witnessed waves of inter-communal conflict. Her house was burned, her crops destroyed, and her husband was among those killed. However, Akuol told IRIN, she is hopeful that Kakuma, where she lived for 18 years before going back to what was then southern Sudan, will offer her some peace.
Photo: Ken Oduor/IRIN
|Dashed hopes: David Aguer is a refugee again|
“I have no home to go back to. Now I will look for something to do here in Kakuma and I hope my children will get an opportunity to go to school. I used to be a hawker here before I went back to south Sudan,” she said.
Kakuma almost full
As of 10 May 2012 Kakuma was hosting 94,844 people from 13 countries in the region, according to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR).
Initially designed to host 100,000 people, the camp could reach its capacity by the end of June, according to UNHCR.
Jeff Savage, UNHCR senior protection officer in Kakuma, told IRIN: “Even though people from Somalia make up 50 percent of the camp population, new arrivals have mainly been from South Sudan and Sudan due to the conflict in those two countries.”
Camp officials told IRIN 7,711 new arrivals have been registered in Kakuma since January 2012, 75 percent of them from Sudan and South Sudan.
“We receive 100-150 new refugees daily, mainly from South Sudan,” said Savage.
South Sudan gained independence in July 2011 but conflict pitting rebels against government forces, inter-communal fighting and clashes between the two countries have seen tens of thousands displaced, according to UN agencies.
Plans are under way, according to UNHCR, to set up another camp, build more classrooms in the available schools, and set up health facilities in anticipation of a new refugee influx.
“We are trying to cope with what is available, but Kakuma could soon reach its capacity... We are mobilizing funds to scale up the humanitarian response to cope with the new refugee influx,” Savage, told IRIN.
Meanwhile, the US Agency for International Development’s FEWS NET warns: “The food security situation for refugees entering Kakuma refugee camp from South Sudan may deteriorate if the number of refugees increases... If the capacity of the camp is surpassed, refugees are likely to experience poor access to shelter, food, and other needs. At the same time, the erratic nature of the long rains need close monitoring because flooding may occur in many localized areas, leading to high food insecurity for many affected households.”