At Kilometer 18 Transit Site in Maban County, South Sudan, 12,000 refugees are waiting, having fled drought and conflict in Blue Nile State across the border in Sudan. They are waiting patiently to be assigned and transported to new or expanding camps in Maban County, which are currently under construction—but the 10 days they were promised has now become more than two weeks. Prior to arriving at Kilometer 18, they spent five weeks waiting at another transit site, only moving on once the water supply ran out.
The refugees have walked for a month or more to reach Kilometer 18, often arriving sick and hungry. Today, they sleep in the open or sometimes under a bed sheet or a plastic tarp. Water is extremely scarce, with only enough for about two liters per person per day. Food supplies remain inadequate and health services are extremely limited.
Dr. Simon Bwire has been working at Kilometer 18 Transit Site since International Medical Corps launched an emergency response in Maban County in early June. He explains why it is so important to move these refugees from their current location:
“Relocating them is the best option we have. In the next week, there will be no water and the rains will come soon. Once the rainy season is here, the dirt track that leads to the camps turns into a muddy swamp and becomes impassible by automobile. Moving them will no longer be an option and bringing them help will be impossible. This is a race against time.”
International Medical Corps and other partners are now engaged in a massive operation to move the refugees from Kilometer 18, with as many as 2,500 families transported each day to Yusuf Batil Camp.
Dr. Bwire has been screening refugees prior to their departure to Yusuf Batil Camp. The most fragile people travel in a bus and because of the extreme urgency, Dr Bwire’s responsibility is to ensure they are not too sick to handle the harsh trip. People who are dehydrated, have a fever or severe diarrhea or have another serious health condition are not able to depart. Instead, they are referred to the clinic and must wait for another day.
Dr. Bwire explains how emotionally intense this experience has been.
“The hardest part is the pain you see in the people there, sleeping outside. There’s minimal shelter. There are long queues to the water point. It’s very emotional to see people with nothing trying to survive.”
Nevertheless, he remains confident that the relocation program is working. “I help by enabling them to get to Batil Camp, where they have access to shelter, services – health and water – and food. There we can help them properly.”