Chapter II: Protection


Here, in this precarious camp for displaced people, nearly 50,000 people who have fled the violence struggle to live, crammed into half a square kilometre. That’s about 10 square metres per person.

In some areas of the camp, there is only one toilet for every 50 people, and only 13.9 litres of drinking water per day per person. The standard minimum is between 15 and 20 litres (for drinking, cooking and washing).

In early 2014, with the civil war in South Sudan out of control, tens of thousands of people fled Malakal and took refuge in the UN site. It was intended as a temporary shelter, a place born out of urgency. Doctors Without Borders (MSF) set up a makeshift field hospital made from tents and plastic sheeting to treat the dozens of war wounded, who were in desperate need of treatment.  It was intended as an emergency response to provide immediate medical assistance.

As time passed and Malakal continued to  be ravaged by the conflict, more and more people were forced to make the UN site their home.

The camp has become a  miniature representation of the city of Malakal, formerly a source of life and commerce. Despite numerous attacks on the facility, for thousands of people it remains the only sanctuary they have.


UN protection of civilians site in Malakal, South Sudan. | ANNA SURINYACH

“The situation is terrible,” says Veronica Ocham, who lives in a hut with her family. “Sometimes I leave the site to collect firewood and make some money. It is not safe to stay anywhere. Recently the camp was flooded. We have no food. We want to return to Malakal.”

Inside the camp, people are segregated into ethnic groups to avoid clashes. There are many special zones. One has containers and big tents that the UN previously used for storage, this is where the latest arrivals can be found.

Between the containers, gangs of children for whom school is but a distant memory play barefoot amongst the broken glass and rubbish that litters the ground.

A girl amid the containers where some of the displaced from Malakal live. | ANNA SURINYACH

Lucia Daniel lives in one of the containers. Sitting on the threshold of the metallic blue rectangle, she cries as she remembers the family she lost in the conflict: her son, killed; her daughter, missing.


Lucia Daniel and her family. | ANNA SURINYACH


"My home is in Malakal, but the fighting forced me to come here," she says. “The children don’t go to school and there is nothing to eat. If the people return to Malakal because it is safe, I will too. If not, we’ll stay here.”

Lucia has five children. In fact, one of them isn’t her child: he’s her grandson but she treats him as one of her own. She’s taking care of him because her daughter, the mother of the boy, fled during the fighting and boarded a bus to the north, which according to the people of Malakal was attacked by a group of gunmen. No one knows for sure, but she thinks her daughter is dead.

Now the boy sleeps on her legs, exhausted. He clings to his new mother.

She cries. She doesn’t know what to do.