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(Photo Credit: The Niles, Bonifacio Taban) Refugees in Yida Camp

(Photo Credit: The Niles, Bonifacio Taban) Refugees in Yida Camp

by Faith J. H. McDonnell (@Cuchulain09)

Two articles from The Niles online magazine provide a glimpse of life for the Nuba people of Sudan who have fled from aerial and ground attacks by the Sudanese government forces to Yida Refugee Camp in South Sudan. Even now, Khartoum continues to rain down bombs in the Nuba Mountains of South Kordofan, as well as in Blue Nile State. In the case of the Nuba — many still attempt to wait out the war in mountain caves. They are starving to death gradually, as Sudan refuses to allow the needed humanitarian aid to reach them.

Those who have sought refuge over the border in South Sudan’s Yida Refugee Camp have conditions that are marginally improved. Fewer bombs and ground attacks (they still do come sometimes), some food, and possibly a glimmer of hope that there will be a future. But this hope is often marred by the ongoing trauma experienced by the refugees as a result of what they have suffered.

Nuba wrestlers in refugee camp

(Photo credit: The Niles, Hajooj Kuka) Nuba Wrestling at Yida Camp

A March 6, 2013 article in The Niles by Hajooj Kuka tells how the Nuba in Yida are attempting to preserve an important part of their cultural heritage — Nuba wrestling. “Despite everyday hardship in the camp, refugees in Yida organise regular Nuba Wrestling competitions,” reports The Niles. The weekly wrestling matches attract hundreds of watchers.

“The residents of Yida camp believe that wrestling teaches discipline, and is therefore a valuable sport for their children,” Kuka continues. Even more important, though, according to Kuka, is the preservation of the ancient Nuba culture. The Nuba understand that the Islamist regime in Khartoum is trying to wipe out their ethnic and cultural identity. Nuba wrestling can be traced back to the days of ancient Egypt that documented the sport from “the Land of the Blacks” (Sudan) in wall drawings and iconography, says Kuka.

Another March 6 article in The Niles reveals the impact that fleeing from bombs and jihadist troops has had on the Nuba, particularly on children. Journalist Gumaa Al-Fadel writes, “Extended bombing in the Nuba Mountains leaves behind more than corpses. Citizens, especially children, are deeply psychologically scarred.” Al-Fadel interviewed a mother in Yida Refugee Camp who revealed that her 13 year-old daughter “screams while asleep and wakes up crying.” A nurse at the camp explained that the girl, who was “traumatised by government warplanes which repeatedly bombed her local region, leaving her and her family to cower among the rocks,” had nightmares in which she had recurring images of these events.

One refugee girl told Al-Fadel that “her sister and 17 other girls were intercepted by government forces while they were collecting water and wood.” The girls were taken to the army camp “where they were gang-raped and then released the next morning.” Ever since the attack, said the girl, her sister has suffered “from recurrent nightmares, lack of appetite and diarrhoea.”

Al-Fadel also interviewed Dr. Daniel B., a retired doctor working from Juba as a consultant for an organisation to support Nuba refugees. Dr. Daniel said that “Nuba children were exposed to an onslaught resembling genocide,” he urged help from the international and regional community. He revealed that “among the children he met, many looked older than their years and could no longer smile.”

Trauma and disease are twin hardships in Yida Refugee Camp. Al-Fadel reports that “International agency Oxfam last year warned that camps were ticking time bombs, at risk of a major disease outbreak,” and in February “the UNHCR spokesman said that Hepatitis E killed 111 out of 6,017 infected refugees.”

A. N., a human rights activist interviewed by Al-Fadel, stressed that Article 8 (2)-(B) 25 of the International Criminal Court Law stated that intentionally using starvation of citizens as a method of warfare was a war crime. Al-Fadel concludes by quoting A.N.’s comparison of the conflict in the Nuba Mountains to a holocaust: “There are mass graves, killings, raping and starvation.” The stuff of nightmares, even in a place of refuge.