JUBA, SOUTH SUDAN: The women and girls leave the main United Nations refugee camp here during the day. The men do not. To exit is to risk death, they say.
Whether true or not, such claims show the level of fear that pulses through the main U.N. camp for internally displaced people two weeks after violence broke out in Juba, the capital of South Sudan, and a spiraling series of ethnically-based attacks coursed through the nation, killing at least 1,000 people.
Some 25,000 people live in two hastily arranged camps in Juba, and nearly 40,000 are in camps elsewhere in the country. The government says those in the camps — who are mostly from the Nuer tribe — can leave and will be perfectly safe. The men here do not believe it.
“It is very hard to go outside because there are people watching,” said Wuor Khor, a 29-year-old graduate of Juba University, who was selling bottles of water sitting in a bucket of ice on the camp’s ad hoc main thoroughfare. “They follow you wherever you are going and then they kill you.”
They, in this case, are members of the Dinka, the majority tribe from which President Salva Kiir hails. In this camp the Nuer, South Sudan’s second largest tribe, feel part of a targeted minority after former Vice President Riek Machar, a Nuer, was accused of a coup attempt on Dec. 15 and fighting — often ethnically motivated — broke out.
“It has happened several times,” Khor continued. “You will not go beyond the gate. If you don’t speak Dinka language you will be killed.”
Although the violence in Juba has largely quieted down, rebels control the oil city of Bentiu, and Bor, the capital of Jonglei state, remains under threat of attack from Nuer youth, though the government on Sunday said most of a column of 25,000 men marching on Bor have disbanded and returned home.
The Juba camp numbers swell at night, the facility’s leaders say. Women and children may go out during the day to buy food. They return when the sun sets.
As the camp’s numbers climbed to the thousands it became a mess. Trash lay everywhere. Open defecation took place. Things have improved: Trash is now collected. Latrines have been dug, but not quite enough yet, said Liny Suharlim, a French aid coordinator at the camp.