Enduring Exile: Stories Of South Sudanese Displacement

Set in northern Uganda, Enduring Exile uses visual imagery and storytelling to explore the logics through which South Sudanese refugees endure exile. 

By documenting the daily lives of the displaced, Enduring Exile presents an alternative narrative to the commonplace representation of refugees as “victims” while restoring the local experience of refugees that is often silenced by an explanatory industry based on statistics.

Images featured in Enduring Exile were collected in churches, community spaces and homes in November 2016 in Arua, Uganda. Ethnographic research by PhD student Liz Storer at the London School of Economics and Political Science began in September 2016 and is ongoing.

More at www.enduringexile.com


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PUSH (Pray for South Sudan) Service

Arua, Uganda

Every month, a group of South Sudanese refugees gather at a crumbling, one-story church in Arua, Uganda for the Prayers for the Healing of South Sudan (PUSH) service.

Through prayer, sermons, music and healing ceremonies, members of the congregation pray to God for forgiveness in hopes that their holy calls will allow them to return to their homes in South Sudan someday.

Many in the congregation believe the ongoing conflict in South Sudan, which has displaced more than 3 million people, is God’s punishment for “disobeying” and “forgetting” him during during more prosperous times. 

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"Our brain cannot rest, our heart cannot rest, our mind cannot rest. We are all sick. We have to pray, We have to sing so that God can hear us and forgive us."

Refugees from South Sudan’s Western Equatoria region gather for the monthly Prayers for the Healing of South Sudan service in northern Uganda.

Refugees from South Sudan’s Western Equatoria region gather for the monthly Prayers for the Healing of South Sudan service in northern Uganda.

“Money and riches have taken us far away from our Lord. We have broken our relationship with our God. There’s no peace now. What we sowed is what we are reaping now.” 

Refugees from Western Equatoria beat animal-skin drums during a PUSH service in northern Uganda.

Refugees from Western Equatoria beat animal-skin drums during a PUSH service in northern Uganda.

“I had a dream about my family in South Sudan and when I woke up, I saw a snake on the doorstep ... a two-headed snake, which, in our culture, means bad things.” 

Jacqueline receives a blessing from her minister after finding a two-headed snake on her doorstep earlier that week.

Jacqueline receives a blessing from her minister after finding a two-headed snake on her doorstep earlier that week.

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AMBIRIOMBACHI ANGLICAN CHURCH

Arua, Uganda

Packed shoulder to shoulder in a small, mud-walled church, worshippers at the Ambiriombachi Anglican Church in Arua shouted prayers for peace and reconciliation in South Sudan.

The service was conducted in Dinka language for a predominantly female congregation, who swayed back and forth to the repetitive rhythm of hand-beaten drums and traditional South Sudanese song and prayer. 

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Worshipers at a Dinka church in northern Uganda gather for Sunday service. More than 330,000 South Sudanese have fled to Uganda after fighting between the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) forces and rebels intensified last July. Both groups are accused of perpetrating human rights abuse against civilians in the South Sudanese town of Yei including killings, rapes, arbitrary arrests and forced abductions according to Human Rights Watch.
Dinka men wait outside the church in Arua, Uganda. Several avoided being photographed for fear they could be targeted for violence by soldiers loyal to Vice President Riek Machar, an ethnic Nuer.

Dinka men wait outside the church in Arua, Uganda. Several avoided being photographed for fear they could be targeted for violence by soldiers loyal to Vice President Riek Machar, an ethnic Nuer.

PORTRAITS

Arua, Uganda

Lika, 29, stands at a dining room table in her home in northern Uganda. 

Lika, 29, stands at a dining room table in her home in northern Uganda. 

Lika

“War is happening. That is why we are here. It’s like in a prison, waiting to be released,” said Lika, 29, who fled the fighting in Juba in 2012, leaving her parents and siblings in South Sudan.

“They are seriously suffering because no one is helping them,” she said. 

Unable to find a job in Uganda, Lika now stays at home to care for her three children. She often struggles to afford food for her family.

“I’m here, just sitting … like a housewife because there is no work,” she said. “Our problem is the money because we are dependent here.”

Lika doesn’t blame one tribe for the current conflict in South Sudan. Rather, it’s punishment for the sins of all South Sudanese people, who she said left their faith during times of peace.

“God will be the one to stop that war when the time has come, so we are just praying to God to have mercy,” she said.


Sisters Cecilia and Norah share a couch in Arua, Uganda.

Sisters Cecilia and Norah share a couch in Arua, Uganda.

Norah and Cecilia

Sisters Norah and Cecilia fled to northern Uganda during the second Sudanese civil war, which led to the creation of South Sudan. They moved from Yei River State to the Rhino Camp Refugee Settlement in Uganda before finding a home in Arua in 1990.

Cecilia said she lost many family members in the ongoing conflict in South Sudan, including her nephew who was killed last year by government soldiers.

“They knocked at the door, and he was shot point-blank,” she said. “His name was Lupai.”

Cecilia blames the Dinka for bringing conflict to her country.

“It’s terrible. Terrible,” she whispered. "These Dinka, they have taken us away from our faith. I have forgiven them but the pain is still there. The pain is still there.”


Wilma, 37, fled to Uganda three years ago. 

Wilma, 37, fled to Uganda three years ago. 

Wilma

“When the country is not yours, you’re not happy in it,” said Wilma, a 37-year-old refugee living in Arua.

Wilma fled to Uganda three years ago, moving to Arua and caring for her children and her sister’s after fighting broke out in the country.

“What’s happening is the tribes are not together,” she explained. “Everyone wants to be on the top.”


Mary embroiders a handkerchief while sharing her story of fleeing South Sudan 10 years ago.

Mary embroiders a handkerchief while sharing her story of fleeing South Sudan 10 years ago.

Mary

Mary, 33, said she relies on her Christian faith to get her through the pain of war and displacement.

The granddaughter of a Protestant bishop, she prays every morning that God keeps her children healthy and brings peace to South Sudan.

“Sometimes God cannot deliver to you right away,” Mary explained. “You just pray until you get what you want.”   

Mary doesn’t blame one tribe for the violence that has engulfed her country in recent years.

“We have differences but [the] same heart,” she said.


Alice prepares for the day inside her home in Arua, Uganda.

Alice prepares for the day inside her home in Arua, Uganda.

Alice

“Sometimes I think, why is life too difficult like that?” said Alice, a refugee from Western Equatoria.

The once successful logistics manager in South Sudan now struggles to find enough work to support her six children. Alice said local businesses are hesitant to hire outsiders.

Still, she is determined to give her children better lives than she had in South Sudan. 

“Some of this suffering will end with me and their children’s [burden] will be lighter because of their suffering,” she said.

Alice said she believes something positive will come out of her pain, adding, “When you’re a human being, as long as you have blood flowing from your veins, you cannot give up. Just believe.”

 

Images from this article are part of the ongoing project “Enduring Exile: Stories of South Sudanese Displacement.” More images and stories about the South Sudanese refugee crisis can be found at www.enduringexile.com.

Read more: "South Sudanese refugees struggle to overcome ethnic divisions as they pray for peace" at Public Radio International