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SHERKOLE REFUGEE CAMP, Ethiopia, March 5 (UNHCR) - Everyone in this camp seems to be looking
for someone. And those who have stopped searching are fighting off
Deng Bullis, 18, is looking for his mother and sister. He was in
Kurmuk in Sudan when the bombs fell in September. And when he heard
the explosions he ran home and hurriedly collected his most
important possessions: an English dictionary, a bible and a biology
But while he was able to bring these items across the border to
Ethiopia, he has yet to find his family. And so on his forearm he
has used a rock to scratch the word "WHERE" on his skin. "I don't
know where I will go," he says. "I don't know where my mother and
sister are. I don't know where my future is."
In the confusion of conflict, refugees who left Sudan have lost
their loved ones. In many respects this has created a sense of
longing. Each day, as refugees continue to stream across the border
from Sudan into the complex of camps near Asosa, Ethiopian
asylum-seekers find themselves seeking word of their relatives. And
for some the news is not good.
UNHCR faces myriad challenges associated with the reunification
of family members across three different countries, including a war
zone. "It is easier to trace people when the refugee population is
stable," says UNHCR's Mwajuma Msangi, camp manager for
"But across the border, from the city of Abyei to Blue Nile
[state] and in parts of South Sudan, the situation is extremely
unstable. It makes it difficult to trace families," he adds. The
refugee agency is in the first stages of working with the
International Committee for the Red Cross to trace missing family
In the meantime, the search for loved ones becomes a matter of
informal networks among refugees themselves. New arrivals bring
word about others, who in turn provide news as to the status of
loved ones. Bullis fears that his father was killed during the
bombing in Kurmuk.
Others, however, still hold out hope. Nyankim Bol, 35, who fled
from Abyei into Ethiopia in September, hopes that one day she will
see her husband. "The bombing started, then soldiers arrived and
started shooting," she says. "We were running during the night. I
went to find my husband, but we were separated."
Bol, whose family farmed the land before the latest conflict,
walked with her five children for about a month before arriving at
the Ethiopian border. "I thought only about my children, would they
live or would they die?" she says of the journey. "I thought about
what I could feed them." Kindly strangers gave them water and okra.
Once they arrived safely in Sherkole Camp Bol's longing for her
husband, Achuiel Mayol, began to set in.
Now Bol and others who have fled from Abyei sing songs about
what happened to them - their way of
coping with a terrible past. "We sing this song to remember the
people who have died in Abyei," she says.
For still others, the fate of family members is something that
is known - and lamented. Nyayu Alcon,
65, knows that her daughter and son-in-law are dead. When soldiers
entered Kurmuk, she saw her 32-year-old daughter, Nyayuel, try to
escape with her husband, Buth, aged 40. He was a soldier and wanted
to fight; she simply wanted to be with her husband. They left the
five children with their grandmother. But husband and wife were
The older children realize that their parents are dead. But the
three-year-old twin boys, Gach and Anabel, don't understand what
happened to their parents. "Always they ask, 'When will my mother
come?'" says Alcon. "I tell them their mother and father will come
soon. Always I tell them that. I don't want them to cry."
By Greg Beals in Sherkole Refugee Camp, Ethiopia