A major aspect of the violence in South Sudan has been the huge internal displacement of people. The traditional definition of a refugee is someone who seeks safety across an international border. These people are refugees, but in their own country.
This week, I have been trying to find out more about the largest number on that map, the 76,000 in Awerial, which is an area of the Diocese of Yirol. As the map shows, Awerial is not far from Bor but the Nile River separates the two. That being said, there is a long history of links between the communities across the river—for trade, for grazing cattle, and to flee violence.
After the 1991 “Bor Massacre,” for instance, a huge number of people did exactly what they’ve done in the last few weeks: flee to Awerial and points west, some as far as Western Equatoria. Others resettled permanently: there is still a large Dinka community in Nimule.
I have had no luck in getting through to people in Awerial itself—phone links seem pretty bad—but I have managed to talk to others in South Sudan who have. It seems a fair guess that among those 76,000 are a goodly number of members of the Diocese of Bor. At least one archdeacon from Bor as well as one rural dean from the diocese are currently displaced to Awerial. Given the strength of the Anglican church in Bor, there are likely many others as well.
Some international media have managed to report from Awerial (the New York Times, the BBC) but it has become clear in my phone calls that we should not think this map tells the whole story. There are many people who have fled to rural communities or into the largely uninhabited grazing areas. These people are even further from the limited relief available in Awerial.
I have written before about how displacement has been a huge shaping factor in the South Sudanese church. Part of the experience of displacement for many South Sudanese, as I noted, is the feeling of isolation and disconnection from the rest of the church, both in South Sudan and around the world. Seventy-six thousand people does not approach the scale of the displacement in 1991—then, it was estimated that seventy percent of the east bank Dinka population was killed or displaced—but it is a lot of people for a part of the world that is rural and remote. I hope we are soon able to learn more about what is going on there and what it means to be the church in this situation.
UPDATE: I just came across this 46-second audio clip describing the conditions these 76,000 displaced people are dealing with in Awerial.