Arriving at a Refugee Camp

The Danish Refugee Council (DRC) has managed the Ajuong Thok refugee camp since April 2013. Located in the North of Unity State in South Sudan, it was created to accommodate Sudanese Refugees, most of whom are fleeing the on-going conflict taking place in the Nuba Mountains of the South Kordofan region in Sudan. As fighting increased in mid-December 2014 thousands were forced to flee, and more than three thousand people have arrived into Ajuong Thok in a few weeks, taking the numbers in the camp to over 17,000, with no sign of slowing.

From South Sudan


Photo by DRC: Community Outreach Worker Saida with Awatif and her children as she explains the services they will receive

But what does it really mean to be a refugee arriving into a new camp? DRC followed the story of Awatif Ahmad and her family, as well as the staff of DRC working in the camp, on the day they arrived into Ajuong Thok.

Today Awatif and her family are part of a group of 300 refugees who have been registered in the town of Yida, which is close to the border with Sudan, and transported by UNHCR to Ajuong Thok. Idris Mamoun is a Community Outreach Worker for DRC and an important part of his role is organising the reception of new arrivals. As Idris explains, “we receive the new arrivals here at the reception centre, and the first thing we do is provide them with water and biscuits, they are thirsty from the journey and many are hungry, so they are happy to receive this.”

DRC and other partner organisations in the camp take this opportunity to explain to everyone the process of their arrival and introduce themselves and the services they will provide.

One of these services is the provision of a plot of land which is given to every household, and Elia Michael, a Field Services Assistant for DRC describes the process, “as camp manager DRC will assign every family a plot of land in the camp, we provide them with a tent as temporary shelter. On the first day they arrive though, they will stay in large community shelter, until they have had a chance to clear the land, and we help them to install the tent we provide.”
Once this information has been shared, families are called forward by name, a group at a time, to move onto the next stage of the process, registration. Saida Nasir, a Community Outreach Worker, explains that families who are classed as vulnerable, such as large families or unaccompanied children are called forward first as they will be provided with extra support.

Awatif, 34, is the head of her family. She herself has 7 children aged between 16 and 14 months old. As well she is with Ibrahim, who is 18 and also fled from the same location and has no family with him.

Awatif told us the story of why she left her home, “I came to escape the war. There is not enough food or water and my children can’t go to school. It is not safe for my children, life is just too difficult, they were scared all the time.”
Awatif and her family are then registered by UNHCR, they are given an electronic ration card which has all her family information on it, and makes it easy for the organisations working in the camp to see what support and services she needs. It will also allow her to receive food at the regular distributions that take place in the camp.

It is also at this registration stage that DRC staff support the Lutheran World Federation to monitor and record any children who are arriving at the camp without their family. This is not uncommon in Ajuong Thok as schools are available and families are doing their best to make sure their children don’t lose out on a chance for education. Blasis, a Community Outreach Worker, is helping with the registration today. He explains that it is really important that all of these children are recorded and the information passed on as, “it means that links can be made with foster parents, who may be extended family or from the same village, who will be given extra support to help these children and make sure that they are safe.”

The next step for Awatif is to be assigned her plot of land, which will become home for her and her family. She is registered and given a paper with the address of her plot, and they are reminded again of the importance of settling into this land as soon as they are able, and that support will be provided to help them do this.

Following this the family move onto the stage of medical screening for the children. This is provided by Africa Humanitarian Action (AHA) another partner organisation in Ajuong Thok who provides health services.
At this stage Awatif’s younger children undergo nutritional screening. This is to assess if the family may need extra support to ensure the health of their children. Due to the conditions people are fleeing from many children are suffering from malnutrition and ill health. Male Bibadi, the nutritional officer concludes that Baraka, Awatif’s youngest son, is suffering from moderate-acute malnutrition.

Awatif is now able to give her new address, as well as receive a referral card and learn where she can go to receive extra support and supplements. At this stage children are also given vaccines including for polio and measles.
Most of the refugees who arrive into Ajuong Thok today left their homes by foot and brought with them only what they could carry, so DRC provides them with a package of essential items to allow them to settle in. This includes jerry cans to carry water, mats to sleep on, blankets, mosquito nets, cooking sets and soap.
Riek Gamtong, Compound Manager, was overseeing this distribution for DRC today, and explained how the logistics team plans in advance to make sure that the correct number of items is available for the new arrivals. “The number of items each family gets depends on the size of the family, so we organise the kits in different sizes so we are well prepared.”

Awatif and her family are now nearly ready to move to the block in the camp where they will live, but first they need to collect some food rations so that the family can be sure they will have food as soon as they arrive. They collect sorgum, lentils, oil, sugar and salt from Samaritans Purse, another organisation working in the camp.

DRC then use their team of drivers and vehicles to transport Awatif’s family to the block in the camp where they will set up home, in a camp designed for 20,000 people the distances can be far.

Waiting at the block is the luggage that some of the refugees were able to bring with them. The luggage is transported to Ajuong Thok by UNHCR, and then Turaa Andrew, DRC’s Security Assistant oversees the moving of this luggage to the correct blocks, “we check the tickets on the luggage and match this with the tokens people were given in Yida to make sure everyone gets their correct belongings.”

Juma Lamine, a shelter field assistant explained, “people bring what they can, but as most travel on foot it’s not so much.” We can see that some people brought poles to make beds, some clothes or household items. Even some chickens make the journey, as Juma explained, “if they left them behind, they would have lost them, here they are valuable, they can be eaten, or they can be sold.”

Once they arrive at the block Awatif and her family are shown their temporary accommodation. They are shown the water points and where they can use toilets. It is explained to them again that the following day DRC staff will assist them to install their own shelter at their own address.
Following the long and difficult journey the family are happy to have reached Ajuong Thok, and Awatif is looking forward to her children being able to attend school and to be sure she can feed them.

Bidan Lasiti is the DRC Camp Manager in Ajuong Thok. It is his job to oversee this process of receiving and settling in the refugees on their first day in the camp. He notes that, “from the look on their faces, the new arrivals are usually traumatized. This is as a result of the experiences they have endured before they make their way to Ajuong Thok. In order not to exacerbate the already stressful conditions, DRC has instituted a system where refugees are settled in their blocks as quickly as possible. DRC facilitates other agencies to ensure that the vulnerable are not lost in the cracks. These include Separated Children (SC) and Unaccompanied Minors (UAMs). On average the whole process of settling new arrivals may take 2-3 hours depending on the case load.”

The Danish Refugee Council is doing all it can for the refugees in Ajuong Thok, not just on the day of arrival but every day following, to ensure people’s needs are met and their rights are respected until such a time that they no longer need to be supported inside a refugee camp setting.