Refugees seek shelter in graveyard

A graveyard in Juba has become a refuge for some of the four million people displaced by five years of conflict in South Sudan.

“I’ve been a neighbour of the dead for five years now,” says Raymond Modi, one of about 8,000 people who have taken up residence in St Mary’s church cemetery in the suburb of Kony-Konyo.

Many live in flimsy tents and most are from the Terekeka province, where violence erupted two years after South Sudan’s independence from Sudan in 2011.

The situation in the graveyard is desperate – people survive by begging and by eating food rejected by others. There’s a lack of medicine, clothing and shoes.

But the cemetery is still safer than the villages from which they fled, where ethnic and political rivalries have led to the kidnapping of children and the theft of cattle, a vital source of livelihood. Having run for their lives they have no income that would enable them to afford to rent accommodation.

People visiting their dead relatives are understanding about the plight of the graveyard’s living residents. And the displaced people  – well, they seem to have grown accustomed to their situation.

“It’s become a part of my life,” says Modi. “I eat with the dead by throwing some of my food and drink on the ground. I believe it pleases them.”

//Daniel Majak, Juba

The postcards written by journalists in our network are published on the Blankspot Project website.