Joshua* had to flee home twice, the first time when Sudan’s civil war came to his village in Southern Sudan’s Jonglei State. He was a young boy and he and his parents arrived safely in Laboni camp near the Ugandan border. But when the Lord’s Resistance Army attacked the camp, Joshua fled again. This time, he and his parents were separated in the disarray caused by the LRA’s surprise attack.
Joshua’s parents returned to their village in Jonglei, while Joshua, now 27, ended up in Kakuma, a teeming refugee camp in northern Kenya that opened in 1992 to accommodate the thousands of Southern Sudanese fleeing fighting between North and South. At its height, the UN Refugee Agency assisted more than 75,000 Sudanese in Kenya, most of whom lived in Kakuma.
For displaced Sudanese, the upcoming referendum on Southern independence raises new prospects for one day returning home. Joshua spoke to IRIN about his work as a civic educator with the team organizing the registration and voting process in the refugee camp and about his aspirations for after the referendum:
“Most people in Kakuma don’t know about the referendum. We have people here who are illiterate, so it’s our role as civic educators to explain to them in a way that they can understand so they can make a choice about the referendum. When they find out, people feel proud that they are being considered in the vote. They feel proud that they are being recognized and that the people of Sudan have not forgotten about them.
“However, people fear that there might be some signs of rigging the election. Like in Kakuma, people don’t understand why when their votes are counted [the ballots] have to be taken to Khartoum. Why not Juba? That is the question people are asking me as a civic educator.
“I feel proud of the referendum because it is a historical process that will actually liberate people. I am going to do my part as a citizen of Southern Sudan. No one is going to direct me; it is only me who can make my decisions and it is my right to do. So I am also proud of it, as my people are proud.
“After the referendum, when it is done successfully, when I can see that the right of Southern Sudanese is there and has not been denied, I’ll be going back. Because Sudan is my country and Southern Sudan is a rich land. I can also go and get employment or further my studies, because I am still young and have time to learn and have my degree.
“The first thing I will have to do when I return to Sudan is meet my parents. And I will plan what I can do for them. They are illiterate people and they will need me to support them. That is my role – to build my nation, and to build your nation you have to start from where you are.”
*Joshua spoke to IRIN in a personal capacity but his name has been changed because his employer has not authorized him to speak to the media.
[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]