Former Refugee Speaks Out About South Sudan Crisis
Last night I had the privilege of talking with Moses Moini. He is a former South Sudanese refugee and now works with the Mennonite Central Committee in Ontario, settling refugees with private sponsors. Moses told us that the crisis in South Sudan is now forcing millions of people to flee. We are now experiencing the worst refugee crisis in history, with refugees now numbering 65 million. If you are looking for a way to help refugees, please consider donating to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR). The UNHCR is the agency on the forefront of providing care for refugees. They are primarily funded through voluntary donations and are in great financial need.
The other thing we can do to help refugees is pray. As Moses Moini said, “Pray for peace, peace, peace and for the conflict to end! Pray for the displaced people both in the country and in the refugee camps. Pray that basic services can be provided – food, shelter, water and medication. Pray for God to show his power and raise leaders with a vision for his nation.” May that be our prayer as we continue to monitor the situation in South Sudan.
To learn more about the crisis in South Sudan and Moses’ story, please read below.
- How long has this conflict been going on?
The nation of South Sudan was created in 2011. In June 2013, there was a fallout between the President – Salva Kirr and his Vice President Riak Machar. As a result of the fall out, the Vice President was fired by the President. In December 2013, what was thought to be a political problem degenerated into ethnic conflict between the Dinkas and Nuers. In that conflict hundreds of Nuers were massacred in Juba, the capital of South Sudan. The Vice President himself, who is from the Nuer, tribe fled the country leading to the formation of the Sudan Peoples Movement in Opposition (SPLM-IO). In August 2015, a peace agreement was reached between the SPLM-IO and the SPLM party headed by the President, Salva Kirr.
In July 2016, another clash between the SPLM-IO and the SPLM party erupted, which led to the loss of many lives. After the clashes, Vice President Riak Machar fled Juba. After a 48 hour ultimatum issued by the President for the Vice President to return to progress with the peace agreement had passed, he was replaced by Taban Deng; a member of the opposition, as the acting Vice President.
As a result of this, the Vice President Riak Machar went into exile and in September 2016 announced a call for armed struggle against Kiir. That was when the country started to empty. As of today, it is reported that more than 3.5 million people have been displaced in a country of about 12 million, with more than 2.1 million internally displaced and more than 1.5 million having fled to neighboring countries of Uganda, Kenya, Sudan, and Ethiopia.
- What do people need to know that is not in the news media currently?
South Sudan is at peril. The country is deeply hurting! People are starving even in places like Juba, the capital, that is said to be relatively stable. The country is emptying out. In a nutshell, South Sudan’s mountain top experience has not lived beyond its 3rd birthday. This country was created through hard work in 2011. A lot of prayers and diplomatic efforts went into its creation. When it was created, people were riding high and forgot to address many of the issues that were critical for building a sustainable, peaceful and prosperous South Sudan for all. There were a lot of atrocities committed during the war that created deep wounds among the various ethnic groups and also within the groups. The Bor massacre of 1991, for example, led by Riak Machar’s Nuer tribe left over 2,000 Dinkas dead. These are very deep wounds that the leadership of the country needed to take time to revisit and begin a healing process. No healing process started and the impact of the hurt is manifest in the current crisis. The crisis has left more than 3.5 million people displaced in a country of about 12 million, with more than 2.1 million internally displaced and more than 1.5 million having fled to neighboring countries of Uganda, Kenya, Sudan, and Ethiopia.
Furthermore, since South Sudan was created, it has never had a national agenda. That country is divided along ethnic lines and this is clearly evident in positions of power where one of the major tribes controls the majority of critical positions in Government.
South Sudan as a baby was left to grow on its own with little guidance and discipline from the international community. The international community invested billions in supporting the functioning of South Sudan but held no one accountable. Both the president and his ex-vice have been identified in the list of the top embezzlers of money.
Leadership and vision is lacking and, if there was any, it also died with the founder of the movement whose life ended in a plane crash on July 30th 2005.
- How is your mother responding to this crisis and the grandchildren you had mentioned? Surprisingly she was relieved because she fled her village to the United Nations refugee camp where she felt safer.
Deeply hurt I must say. When people started leaving the country, she was very disturbed. My grandmother died in refuge and my mother’s one major fear is also dying in exile. I was blessed to build her a semi-permanent house and powered by solar. This is the best she has had in her life and her hope was to spend her last remaining days in that dwelling. When the situation deteriorated further and fleeing the country was inevitable, her fear shifted to what can I do at this age? My mum doesn’t know how old she is but I put her at around 85 given my own age and that of my other siblings; most of whom are not living now.
Though my mother and many other people who fled from my village are distraught, they are finally relieved. Earlier on, I mentioned that people started fleeing the country including my village in larger numbers in September 2016 when the leader of the opposition declared armed resistance against the Government. Since then, those of mum lived in fear. The fear of the unknown and the uncertainty of when fighting would breakout in the community. Living in that state traumatized her so much. It created for sleepless night; lack of appetite for food; body aches; leave alone the challenges of old age.
When they finally marshalled the courage, when a relative of ours found a track to ferry them to exile, they were received by the UNHCR officials who welcomed them to their new home – an empty piece of land with no shelter and water. They spent a number of days in the open before they were given tents to pitch as shelters. In the open, she said, she could sleep at night. It was a huge relief!
- You have been in a refugee camp yourself and your university career education was interrupted. What is it like? Is it impossible to describe what it’s like?
A refugee experience shapes one’s life forever. Even though I was resettled to Canada 25 years ago, I still have vivid memories of life in refuge. As a refugee, it is very easy for one to lose hope as opportunities are lacking and the future is filled with very dark and thick clouds. The biggest challenge in that world is to see glimpses of hope. For me, what carried me was the dream to complete my University studies which had been interrupted by the war of 1983-2005 and help my family and community.
- How have you and Mama Moini stayed so faithful in Christ Jesus considering the pain and suffering you’ve endured and your people?
We have not stayed faithful to Jesus. It is the other way. We have lost hope, we have cried, we have lamented, we have wished that if we could see Jesus face to face, we would have a few words to share. However, Jesus has stayed faithful to us. Mathew 25:35 is the verse I can point to and say, look, there is Jesus and his faithfulness. “For we were hungry, and he fed us. We were thirsty, and he gave us drink. We were strangers to Uganda and Canada, and he invited us to his home.” Through thick and thin, Jesus has manifested himself in so many ways and our mouths are full of praises even in times when it seems foolish to praise.
- What should we pray for specifically?
Pray for peace, peace, peace and for the conflict to end! Pray for the displaced people both in the country and in the refugee camps. Pray that basic services can be provided – food, shelter, water and medication. Pray for God to show his power and raise leaders with a vision for his nation.
- Mama Moini has been through this in the past and at her age it is incredible how she is so strong. Is this a mark of your people? Or is it faith in Jesus?
Mama Moini is strong because God has been with her. In the valley, she has seen God’s hand. God has been ever present and lifted her through many challenging times. Having fled the country twice and returning to one’s ancestral land is not an experience of many. For her and others in South Sudan, Jesus’ love is their sustainer.
- Do you think there will ever be peace in South Sudan? Do you think mama Moini will ever be able to return to her beautiful home you helped her build?
That is my hope. When the first civil war started in 1955, it ended and people were able to return after 17 years. The second war that started in 1983 also ended after 22 years and our people returned. Mama Moini has lived through those two wars and life in exile and is very hopeful. Before they left for exile, I told her that I am frustrated with the lack of political stability in South Sudan. God willing, and resources becoming available, I will build for her a house in Uganda. Her response was – what about my house in South Sudan. I told her to hang on to that hope. Mama Moini’s hope is to return to her home!
- How do you communicate with her?
My niece has a phone and that is what I use for calling. If I can’t get through on that line, I call my aunt (my mum’s younger sister). I call three or four times a week. It is quite expensive but I find peace in knowing that they are doing OK on that day.
- I know this is a big one and very complex and complicated but can you briefly describe the tribal situation there and how this has once again arose?
See above. The Dinkas and the Nuers have been arch pastoral rivals for years.
How do you wrestle with the fact that the current global refugees crisis – IS allowing SOME of the wrong people into our communities? By this I mean there are millions of “good” people – but what about the cells that planted within communities that could one day erupt across our land? Or is that unnecessary fear? What about the way, for instance, a born and raised Syrian man would treat women – and his own wife? What about what’s happening in Germany and Sweden? Realize these are BIG questions… but I would like your POV.”
These are indeed BIG questions and I must admit that I have wrestled with them. As humans, we are at our best when we are compassionate, loving and caring. The compassion and humanitarian ideals of Canada has made it what it is. Not perfect, of course, but a nation that I must say I am proud to live in. Indeed, there are concerns and we have heard of terrible things that have been done. Terrorism is so real. However, we also have systems in place to address these concerns. Before newcomers come into the country, they are screened to determine whether they are criminals and admissible to Canada. The same will apply to those crossing the borders into Canada now.
As to the cultural concerns, we focus on helping newcomers, understand how people live in Canada, and how we value and respect each other as humans. Women have a place in the society and deserve respect and dignity that is also accorded to men. As citizens of this wonderful nation, it is important for us to all work together and teach the newcomers how the Canadian society functions.
Watch the full program here: