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Children in queue
Simple hut
The only well at Alari

Photos: Obang Metho

For more photos of refugees, see Testimonies of Survivors.

From Anuak in Minnesota fear for homeland August 2, 2004, by Doug McGill for Minnesota Public Radio:

At Pochalla, the Anuak live in a camp, a slum of lean-tos made of sticks and white plastic sheeting, which is ripped from United Nations food packages dropped by planes. The air drops, every six weeks or so, are not enough to feed the thousands of Anuak who have gathered in the camp. There are very few older people at the camp. Many died en route.

Obang Ojok worked as an office messenger in Gambella until the Dec. 13 massacre. He stood on crutches in a dirt-stained Lakers T-shirt, the stump of a missing leg resting on the crossbar of one crutch.

"I lost my leg during the massacre in Gambella last December," Ojok says through a translator. "And not only my leg, but that day I lost my children, my wife, and many other relatives."

Ojok explained that while he was running away, he was shot from behind in the arm and leg. His left arm has a small round hole on the back, and a jagged three-inch wound on the front where the bullet exited. He says he was saved by local missionaries who found him, persuaded the soldiers not to kill him, and later amputated his leg.

"I don't have hope. I don't think I will live much longer," Ojok said. "Even if the government doesn't come here to this camp to kill me, I don't have any food to eat. I survived the massacre but now starvation may kill me. Other people go to the bush to get leaves to eat. But I have only one leg now. I can't go out to get food."

Under a giant tree filled with birds that provides rare shade in the camp, Obang Opara, in a tan cap and a loosely buttoned dress shirt, limped over to a white plastic chair. He arrived in Pochalla from his trek in the bush in mid-April. He says both of his legs were broken during the Dec. 13 massacre.

Opara had to heal in hiding for four months, before making the long walk to the camp. He says groups of ethnic Ethiopians known as highlanders, who have lighter colored skin than the Anuak, attacked him.

"They came carrying knives and spears and clubs, and the government forces themselves carrying guns, rifles," Opara said.

Like all the Anuak refugees here, Opara says the highlanders worked together with armed Ethiopian troops in twos and threes.

"If you try to run away, just, they will shoot you," said Opara.
A thin and striking young man named Oboge danced around the Pochalla camp in his underwear, singing. He recited bits of poetry and struck poses of people shooting guns, and then of people writhing and falling.

Oboge was a soccer star in Ethiopia. But he lost his family on Dec. 13, and now somme refugees say, he has lost his mind.

"Other people dance with me, but they think I lost my mind," Oboge said through a translator. "But I haven't lost my mind. When I sing a song I feel really happy."
His song questioned why the massacre happened: "You people, you people, you people, Tell me what did we do wrong?"

Some Anuak say they know why the Ethiopian government is driving their tiny tribe from its homeland. The government wants their rich farmland for economic development, and as a place to resettle Ethiopians from larger tribes who were driven out of their own homelands by famine, the Anuak say.

The Anuak home in Gambella also has active gold mines and potential oil reserves. And, recently, the Anuak have pushed for more autonomy over the region.
The Ethiopian government may have a deeper, political reason for pursuing the Anuak. The government is struggling to bind together a country composed of many ethnically distinct regions. It faces armed separatist movements.

Anuak leaders in Minnesota say the Ethiopian government may be using ethnic cleansing on their relatively small tribe as a warning to the larger separatist groups that the government will use violence, if necessary, to keep the country unified.

From the Gambella Development Agency’s report, Report on the Fact-Finding Visit to Pochalla (January 2004):

Pochalla (Sudan)… now hosts thousands of refugees and returnees from the Gambella region of Ethiopia. The refugees and returnees began arriving on December 18, 2003 and have since received no relief assistance, except for occasional daily food rations donated by host communities. At the time of our assessment, the refugee and returnee population was in the process of constructing their own shelters.

The camps in Pochalla are now experiencing serious shortages of basic life-saving provisions and services, from adequate sanitation to clean, safe drinking water. Hunger is quickly becoming a serious concern within the population of these camps, but refugees and returnees also suffer for lack of basic non-food items such as clothing and tools.

For now, returnees, refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Pochalla live in harmony with the host communities, but tensions can and will arise if the needs of both populations are not addressed.

In recent weeks there has been influx of Ethiopian Anuak refugees and Sudanese Anuak returnees (former refugee in Ethiopia) into Pochalla… While the returnees have returned to their areas of origin or are being looked after by relatives and kinsmen, the refugees need protection and asylum pending a solution to their predicament.

At present, the refugees are being hosted by the Pochalla county community and most can be found next to the village of Pochalla itself. The village is on the border with Ethiopia and while there is no discernable security risk to the refugees or local population at this point in time, the authorities have plans to relocate refugees to an unprepared site eight kilometres to the west of the village. The authorities feel that the proposed site would decongest their village and allow for targeted assistance to the refugees. Barring a change in the security situation the team believes that it would be advisable to allow the refugees remain within one to two kilometres of Pochalla town, near existing services or assistance delivery points.

Bolstering local infrastructure to cope with the influx would also benefit the local community in the long run. Should the authorities decide to go ahead with plans to relocate the refugees, the emergency response will entail considerate and sustain investment on the part of aid organizations. Should the security situation require relocation, the refugees should be moved to a distance of 50km away from the border.

A re-registration of the refugee population is necessary to address the inconsistencies of the system under practice by the authorities…

While the refugees and returnees are at present not at risk with respect to their nutritional and health condition, the situation could deteriorate if left unchecked. Refugees have received food assistance from the local community but this arrangement will not last for much longer. Foraging for fruit and hunting game are not viable alternatives. Food assistance is required for the refugees and WFP is asked to consider deliveries for the mentioned three-month period. The official figure for arrivals (i.e. 20,000) and the emphasis placed on food assistance would suggest that in providing food to refugees and returnees, village food stocks have been adversely affected.

This impression is reinforced by several members of the team consider to be a failed second harvest (sorghum) in December 2003. If this is the case, it is recommended that the food needs of the local community be considered separately from those of the refugees In this regard, a WFP-FAO food aid and crop assessments mission should be conducted in the coming days, preferably during the food distribution.

While the interagency team could not determine with certainty the number of unaccompanied minors among the refugees and returnees, there are children within this population who are in need of reunification with their parents and families/relatives. The estimated number of separated children is approximately 100 and it is strongly recommended that the ICRC be engaged to help address this situation. A mission by the ICRC to look into this matter is advisable.

As the refugee population in Pochalla is predominantly composed of “urbanized” adult men and young males it is believed that may likely return to Ethiopia as soon as they consider it safe to do so. Agencies working in Ethiopia, primarily in the Gambella region, should impress upon the Ethiopian Government to restore law and order and provide the necessary guarantees against reprisals to allow for the safe and dignified return of the refugees. This situation should be closely monitored and a review to follow at the earliest convenience…