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World

South Sudan's Civil War Sparks Africa's Largest Refugee Crisis

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Tens of millions of people around the world are refugees, millions on the move. This morning we dip into one of those refugee flows and meet a few of the human beings who make it up.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Every day, thousands of civilians are fleeing from South Sudan to neighboring Uganda. They are escaping from a civil war that has now sparked a famine.

INSKEEP: As they cross the border, they are accusing government soldiers and rebels of committing atrocities in South Sudan. NPR's Eyder Peralta reports from Uganda's newest refugee camp. And we've only used the first names of refugees to protect their security.

(CROSSTALK)

EYDER PERALTA, BYLINE: After crossing the border by foot, U.N. and Ugandan buses bring South Sudanese to the camp. They appear shell-shocked. You see kids carrying other kids. They're mostly barefoot. They're wearing tattered clothing, and they're carrying what's left of their possessions. Sometimes, that means empty plastic jugs, sometimes chickens that provide food along the way.

As the aid agencies register and vaccinate them, some just sit there, staring into space. Keji is holding on tight to her little 3-year-old girl. She says that after the armed groups fight with each other, the rebels come after civilians.

KEJI: Just like that, burning up houses - there is no way out. Even I have some of my sisters they are still left behind. They are looking for a way out.

PERALTA: It wasn't long ago that the world had high hopes for South Sudan. In 2011 amid massive celebrations, it became the world's newest independent nation. But just a few years later when the South Sudan president, an ethnic Dinka, had a falling out with his vice president, an ethnic Nuer, the country quickly descended into a civil war. In Uganda, the U.N. has set up separate camps to keep warring ethnic groups apart.

I found John standing underneath a mango tree. It was hot. He was taking a breather. In his village, he says, it was government soldiers who came knocking door to door. If you didn't speak Dinka, you were considered a rebel. And if you were lucky, he says, they would only loot your home.

JOHN: (Through interpreter) You see people are running like this not because of the rebels. It was the national soldiers are the ones who started this - slaughtering people, shooting people, tying people. Some may be raped because raping is there. Raping is there.

PERALTA: Rights groups have found that both sides have intentionally targeted civilians and that they have raped thousands of women. One of the stunning parts of this crisis is that the vast majority, about 90 percent of those coming across the border, are women and children.

ROSE ANYOU: (Speaking Arabic).

PERALTA: That's Rose Anyou. She says that she begged her husband not to join the rebels. He did anyway, and one day, government forces knocked on their door and shot her husband right in front of her.

ANYOU: (Speaking Arabic).

PERALTA: She ran, she says, and her mother and father ran in a different direction. She made it here to Uganda with her kids, but she hasn't heard from the rest of her family.

ANYOU: (Speaking Arabic).

PERALTA: I walk across the camp where the U.N. has set up huge dormitories, really just plastic sheeting held up by poles. It's where new arrivals spend the night before they're given some building materials and a little piece of land so they can make a home. Out here, it's quiet. It gives the South Sudanese a chance to sleep, to recover, to think.

There, I find Kelly Da. She's an elderly woman sitting right next to her 11-year-old grandson. She says the boy's mother abandoned them. And when the fighting started, Kelly Da had to flee.

KELLY DA: (Through interpreter) Right now, the Dinkas are the ones destroying the place. They get you; they kill you; they even loot all your items; they even beat you. That's what is happening right now. That's why they decided to get to Uganda.

PERALTA: As we talk, it starts to rain. And it becomes obvious that the little boy next to her is not doing well. He's having a hard time focusing. His eyes are closing. One of the aid workers picks him up and takes him out of the rain. She touches his forehead and asks Kelly Da if she knows what's wrong.

UNIDENTIFIED AID WORKER: (Speaking Arabic).

DA: Polio.

PERALTA: Polio. When the boy got to the camp, he was diagnosed with polio.

Eyder Peralta, NPR News, at Imvepi refugee camp in northern Uganda.

(SOUNDBITE OF IMAGINED HERBAL FLOWS, "AUTUMN LEAVES")

INSKEEP: And this afternoon on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, we go to Barcelona, a favorite destination for tourists - which is becoming a problem. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.