Since widespread conflict broke out in South Sudan in mid-December 2013, following what the government called a “failed coup attempt”, the UN estimates that some 413,000 people have been internally displaced, with thousands of others fleeing into neighbouring countries. The total number of people displaced is likely higher, as aid agencies have limited information outside the main population centres, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
Among the areas worst affected by the violence outside the capital, Juba, are the Jonglei and Upper Nile states, where thousands of residents have been forced to flee. The violent clashes are pitting army forces loyal to President Salva Kiir against those supporting former vice-president Riek Machar.
The Dzaipi reception centre, in the northern Uganda district of Adjumani, is among the areas receiving an influx of South Sudanese refugees. It is here that IRIN spoke with Martha Anger, a 20-year-old refugee mother who crossed the border into Uganda after fleeing her village in Bor, Jonglei.
Anger fled on 3 January, while about to give birth to her daughter. She shared her experience.
“I ran, ran, ran and ran”
“The past few weeks have left a permanent mark in my life, one that I will never forget. Something I have never imagined or experienced the whole of my life.
“Men dressed in military uniform, carrying AK-47s stormed our village. It was evening that day when they came, ordering everybody out of their houses. They were about 10 or more, and without telling us what the problem was, they opened fire on us. People starting running amid the shooting; my labour pains had just started but they stopped.
“What I can remember is something cold running down my spine. I knelt down and said to myself, ‘God have mercy on your children’. When I opened up my eyes, I saw men, children and women falling onto the ground, never to get up [again]. When I looked behind, I could see people lying down in pools of blood, some motionless, others groaning in pain.
“That is when I decided that I should try my luck and run away. I ran, ran, ran and ran, but I could still hear the gunshots. I could hear the sounds of bullets passing over my head, but I persevered - even when I started feeling pain in my belly again. My pregnancy was heavy at the time, and I was waiting to give birth at any moment. I arrived at a stream and I could run no more; my heart was beating fast and the pain in my belly was getting stronger.
“I decided to seek refuge in a forest by the stream. Then I saw other people, the majority wounded, coming to seek refuge too. That is when I learned that nine of my relatives had been seriously wounded during the shooting and 11 of them killed. Two of my wounded relatives died during the night as we hid in the forest.”
“Very early in morning, we decided to go to Uganda rather than continue hiding in the forest. The labour pains had subsided, so we started walking, this time by the roadside to avoid any encounter with the insurgents. We walked a long distance with no water to drink.
“Now I am living as a refugee in Uganda, something I have never experienced. Anyway, I have a little daughter [born on 4 January] without a grandmother or a father. I named the baby ‘Nyaring’ - a name in the Dinka language that depicts the situation we are in in South Sudan.
“Nyaring is not doing okay. For the past two days, her body temperature [has been] going up. The baby has no clothes to keep her warm. I have to cuddle her tight to keep her warm in the night.
“At the reception centre, food, shelter, water and clothing are a problem. It’s a hard situation here, so if there is a way out, to help my country South Sudan to have peace so that we can return home, I would be very happy.
“The world should see and understand that there is a problem in South Sudan because children, mothers, and elderly people are suffering because of the war.”
“I don’t know if I will ever meet the people who murdered our people. If I ever meet them, I will tell them that they destroyed the pride of South Sudan. But to rebuild our nation, I am ready to forgive and reconcile with them so that we go back to where we belong.”