A young refugee from South Sudan living in Palabek refugee camp in Uganda carrying food rations. Photo : Sarah Fretwell
9 extreme challenges you face when forced to flee conflict
25 Mar 202110 Min Read
This Lent our campaign is highlighting the issue of people who have been forced to flee their homes due to conflict. We are highlighting the story of Awut and Ajak, two women who have fled the fighting in South Sudan. Both of them have lost their husbands and are now struggling to survive and feed their families having left everything behind them.
Around the world the number of people who have been forced from their homes is the highest it has ever been. Over 80 million people are now displaced, more than the entire population of Ireland and the UK combined. Every single day 28,000 people are forced to flee their homes, like Awut and Ajak, because of conflict and persecution.
Behind every number is a human story. These are the challenges they face…
1. You may have to leave everything behind you
Many people are forced to flee their homes at very short notice due to fighting. You may be facing artillery shelling, your village being set on fire, and you may have to leave behind all of your possessions, your house, and your community.
You might have to leave without even the most basic essentials to cope on the journey to find somewhere safe. You might not have enough food and water. Maybe you didn’t have time to bring items – like cooking pots, blankets and a torch, and you might lack money to buy essential items you don’t have. You may not have a mobile phone or be able to easily contact relatives and others who might be able to shelter you.
2. You may have nowhere safe to stay
You may be fleeing but you do not have any place to go to that is safe from the fighting. You may not have identification papers with you – and this may cause you problems if you face military checkpoints and encounter armed groups. The fighting may be continuing nearby and you don’t have a clear idea of which direction to head in for safety.
You may be able to find a place to stay with relatives or in church compounds and host communities. You might be able to afford rented accommodation and transport to get far away from the fighting. Or you may have to rely on getting to a refugee camp outside the borders of the country or an internal displacement camp if you can’t make it that far. Often these camps are over-crowded and provide only basic tents.
Living in basic tents - Lona Kiden’s children in their tent in Bidi Bidi refugee camp in Uganda. Photo : Tommy Trenchard / Caritas
The Mahama Refugee camp in Eastern Rwanda houses over 53,000 Burundian refugees. Photo: Alan Whelan/Trócaire.
3.You may not be able to get urgent medical support
As you flee for safety, it may not be possible to access health facilities. You may be taking a precarious route through jungles and forests. Members of your family may be hurt from fighting or get sick or injured on the journey. You may not have had time to bring essential medicines with you.
When you find safety in a refugee camp, your children are often at risk of malnutrition and disease, living in cramped conditions without clean water. Camps are often built in areas where drought and flooding are common, and where crops struggle to grow, because sometimes the government can only spare that poor land.
4. Women and girls may face additional challenges
You may face the risk of violence as you flee, including sexual violence from members of armed groups. You could be pregnant and have to give birth in unsafe conditions on the journey to safety. Your husband and sons may have been conscripted and forced to fight in the conflict and now the burden of care for the family is on you.
When you arrive at the refugee camp, it still might not be safe for you in the crowded conditions. The toilet areas may not be lit at night, and when you leave the camp to collect firewood during the day, you could face violence.
5. You may be dealing with trauma
You may have witnessed horrific events and extreme threats to your own safety and the survival of your family. You may have lost loved ones in the fighting. You may not have had time to bury the dead.
Your children may be struggling to cope with the experiences of fleeing the conflict. For example, in Syria, a huge 79 percent of children who have fled the war have experienced a death in the family. It is estimated that half of all refugee children fleeing Syria have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). This is ten times higher than the normal average of children around the world.
6. Your children may lose out on an education
Your children have left behind everything, including their school. As you stay in a refugee camp, there may not be access to schools, and even if there is the curricula might be different, even the language could be different. According to the UN, only half of refugee children worldwide have a primary education as opposed to the global average of 90 percent.
7. You may be waiting a long time to return home
Even if you do make it to safety, you may be waiting for many years to return home. For some refugees, they never return home.
Returning home simply may not be safe – there may be fighting still ongoing, you may have deserted the army, you may be from a persecuted minority group, there may be landmines near your home, your house may be destroyed. Your community may be decimated, everyone having left, and key buildings such as schools and essential infrastructure may be bombed.
In Syria and Myanmar’s Kachin conflict, people have been living in camps for a decade, but the conflicts have not ended and it is not yet safe to return for most. Some Palestinian refugee camps have been established over seventy years ago, with camps growing into towns and generations of refugees being born with hopes of return dwindling. In many conflicts, politics have failed those who have been displaced, and international law hasn’t been applied.
Living in camps may become your permanent reality.
Many Syrian refugees like Amira’s family are living in very basic accommodation, this home has no windows and doors and floods in winter. Many Syrian refugees fled their homes a decade ago and it is not safe for them to return. Photo : Simon Walsh / Trócaire.
Refugees for seventy years : the Shatila refugee camp in Lebanon's capital city of Beirut for Palestinians who lost their homes in 1948 and have never been able to return. Many generations have been born living in these huge camps.
8. You may lose your land while you have fled
You may dream of return when it is finally safe, only to learn that your land has been taken from you while you are gone. Often control over land is one of the reasons why fighting has broken out in the first place.
You may find that members of another ethnic group have taken control of your territory, or that elites have used the opportunity to grab your land, or unscrupulous business actors have acquired your land to make a profit. You may lack the support and finances to try and regain access to your land or to take a legal challenge.
9. You may be forced to flee again…
You may have found shelter and safety in a relative’s home or a displacement camp but then fighting spreads to that area and you must flee again. You are forced to experience the whole horrific ordeal of displacement again. Unfortunately, for many refugees in conflict areas, they experience displacement multiple times.
Fleeing for the fourth time – in Myanmar’s Kachin state, this displaced woman is on her way to Sha-It Yang IDP camp, being relocated for the fourth time. Although they had settled down in one place, they now have to flee because of artillery shells being fired near the camp. This time they didn't have enough time to collect their belongings. Photo: Zinghtung Yawng Htang
These challenges are why your support is needed
In South Sudan, and many other areas around the world affected by conflict, Trócaire is providing hope and support to people affected by conflict like Awut and Ajak. Thanks to your generous support, we can provide safety and life saving essential aid, and help people rebuild their lives.
Distributing emergency supplies to people forced to flee fighting in Ituri province of Eastern DR Congo.
Rice being distributed to displaced in camps for displaced people in Myanmar’s Kachin state, where over 100,000 people had fled their homes and haven’t been able to return for a decade. Photo : Eoghan Rice.
Permagardens for South Sudan refugees in Palabek refugee camp in Uganda have helped people like Lakot Linda to grow crops to provide food and income. (Photo: Sarah Fretwell / Trócaire).
What your support provides in countries like South Sudan, Somalia and Myanmar:
A safe place to stay: shelter and camps for people forced from their homes,
Mental health : psychosocial support to help cope with the trauma of violence,
Healthcare: basic health care, maternal health care, nutrition and hygiene,
A new start : recovering and rebuilding after conflict, growing crops, earning a new income.
This year, Trócaire’s Lent campaign will help to support people affected by conflict. If you are in a position to do so, please consider donating to our appeal. It can change lives and save lives. Thank you.