A Refugee’s Story: ‘I Will Return Home One Day’

Mrs. Odetta Mborige speaks to press at Makpandu refugee camp, Yambio [photo by Joseph Nashion]

According to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, Western Equatoria state (WES) is currently home to around 9,000 refugees from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Central African Republic (CAR) and Sudan. All sought refuge in the state as a result of conflict and insecurity in their home nations. Behind these stark figures lie the stories of 9,000 individual human beings.

Odetta Mborige, a mother of two boys and originally from CAR, lives at Makpandu refugee camp in Yambio County. She explained that they migrated due to insecurity caused by the activities of the Ugandan Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), which was then operating in CAR. She said that initially, settling in to WES and getting to grips with the host community was not an easy thing. 

Mrs. Mborigie told how the refugees and the host community gradually got used to each other and she now praises the welcoming nature of the people of WES, who she describes thus: “They are very good people; they have rendered many of us assistance”. In her adopted home, she says, she is living well and her children are going to school, though she is restricted from certain activities that she would undertake if she were still in CAR.

Mrs. Mborigie told Gurtong that, in her experience, a person who is a refugee should not expect as much as if he or she were in their own country. She urged her fellow refugees to avoid imposing pressure on the host community, pointing out that otherwise, “they will get tired of you and relax on what they would have done for you”.

She also expressed her gratitude to the UNHCR which she says has been very supportive many in ways, including giving useful guidance and the provision of medical services. She added, however, that sometimes the camp medical section runs shortage of drugs.

Mrs. Mborigie also said the humanitarian aid, especially food aid, sometimes comes late. She said: “As a person living with children, these things are important things for us, because a child does not understand that the international organization has some delay in bringing food for it to eat- it will keep asking every now and then for food”.

The UNHCR and other partners in the state are aiming to ensure that refugees get three-quarters of what they would have had in their countries. In order to fill the gap, some refugees have taken to cultivating and charcoal burning, while others are doing business so that they can progress with their lives. 

“I and my husband have not waited for the humanitarian aid to be given to us but rather we have burnt charcoal to help us to look after the children”, Mrs. Mborigie noted. “At the moment I am not worried about returning home because my children are going to a school which was built by UNHCR. So I will  think of going home if told by the UNHCR that ‘now your area is safe, it’s no longer under the operations of the LRA’. Then I can collect my children and go.” 

Odetta says being a refugee is not as bad as some people may think: “it’s not a punishment, because we are only seeking safety due to insecurity in our home land”. For members of the host community, she says that, though they may fear refugees have come to use all the resources or food while staying in the area, such visitors never remain- they will go home one day.

In 2011, the United Nations estimated that 43.7 million people worldwide were uprooted and forced from their homes due to insecurity and violence, the highest figure since the mid 1990s. Of these, 27 million are displaced within their own countries (Internally Displaced Persons), and over 15 million are refugees in foreign nations.  By far the majority of refugees are in the world’s developing nations. 

Over one million South Sudanese are currently believed to be displaced by insecurity which followed the outbreak of civil strife in December 2013. The majority remain within the country, but significant numbers have taken refuge in neighbouring nations, particularly Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda. 
As this report demonstrates, the issue of displacement is a complicated one. 

South Sudan itself continues to host many who, over the years, have fled a variety of sometimes interconnected conflicts in other parts of the region. CAR, the home of Mrs. Mborigie, is now believed largely free of the LRA; however, it recently descended into a fresh cycle of vicious internal strife.

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