'I cannot go back': South Sudan refugee clan begins new life

 Eighty-year-old Alfred Wani walks across the wooden bridge over the Kaya River, the border between South Sudan and Uganda, clinging to his Bibles and family photo album, with his wife, three goats and 27 relatives in tow. Missing are a few sons (off fighting) and his cattle (stolen).

Alfred is one of more than 800,000 South Sudanese who have fled to Uganda since July. The civil war in South Sudan has killed tens of thousands and driven out more than 1.5 million people in the past three years, creating the world's largest refugee crisis.

The Bidi Bidi refugee camp in Uganda is now the biggest in the world, but Alfred is not going there. It's full. Imvepi is his destination, where the Ugandan government will issue him with a 50-square-meter (60-square-yard) plot of land and hope for a better life.


In this Wednesday March 29, 2017 photo, South Sudanese refugees walk towards the Ugandan border at Busia. There were high hopes that South Sudan would have peace and stability after its independence from neighboring Sudan in 2011. But the country plunged into ethnic violence in December 2013 when forces loyal to President Salva Kiir, a Dinka, started battling those loyal to Riek Machar, his former vice president who is a Nuer. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)


But that will take a week, two more camps and three more truck and bus rides with his clan and their salvaged belongings.

Alfred walks two hours by foot to the first U.N. processing center for South Sudan refugees in the small Ugandan village of Busia. There, Alfred, a blind man named Ringo with two canes and countless others spend the night before being transferred by minibus to the Kuluba transit camp, 45 minutes down the road. It's set up to accommodate and dispatch more than 1,000 refugees a day.

Michael Lowe, Alfred's 28-year-old son, directs the women of their family to carry their belongings into the white tent they will share with Ringo and his wife, Charly Kenisha, for the next 48 hours. During that time, a well-oiled routine will take them through the hands of charities like the International Rescue Committee and Medical Teams International, who will do medical exams and vaccinations.


In this Wednesday March 29, 2017 photo, an unidentified man crosses into in Northern Uganda with his goats near Busia, Uganda. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)


Alfred sits in a prized wooden chair carried from South Sudan while the grandchildren play. He opens his photo album. "These are my sons." He points at a fading color image showing five of his eight sons. Six are still fighting in South Sudan. "And this is my favorite photo . me and my bicycle."

Alfred, a farmer, shares a few regrets: "If I was young again, I would raise more cattle, and build a good house in concrete, and also pay for my kids' school. I didn't go to school and neither did my children."

In the morning, all the family's belongings are repacked and reloaded onto a truck for transport to Imvepi. More than 1,500 people will be transported in buses adorned with the word "Friends" on the side.

Sixty kilometers (36 miles) and two hours later, the convoy arrives at Imvepi, which is growing at a rate of over 2,000 refugees each day. Already a bustling town has emerged at the entrance to the processing camp, with locals offering vegetables, fish, clothing and cellphone credit at highly inflated prices.

In the morning, Alfred wakes up in pain. The night has been difficult, with no sleep and a bout of diarrhea.


In this Wednesday March 29, 2017 photo, Kassa Wani and her husband, Alfred, from South Sudan, wait to register with U.N. officials as they arrive at the Busia, Uganda processing center. The civil war in South Sudan has killed tens of thousands and driven out more than 1.5 million people in the past three years, creating the world’s largest refugee crisis. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)


He spends the morning at the clinic, which makes it too late for his clan to move today. They will spend one more night in tent 7A. The clan includes eight heads of families, some orphans and several widows from the war or disease: A representative sample of South Sudan's rural society, squeezed into a tent.

As the line of trucks starts to fill up the next morning with goods and 500 people for the final leg of their journey, the clan sits amid their belongings under the broiling sun. More than 50 people in each pickup truck are driven the 15 kilometers (9 miles) to their plots of land on newly cleared dirt roads.

Peeking through the cover of the truck, Alfred can see the white tents that have mushroomed across the land, smell the smoke of their kitchen fires and hear the laughter of children. Soon he will be able to once again sit in his wooden chair, his trademark cowboy hat on his head, and call it home.


In this Wednesday March 29, 2017 photo, Jenifer Juan, daughter of Alfred Wani, waits to board a minibus after being processed by U.N. officials in Busia, Uganda. Jenifer and the rest of the Wani clan were later transported to the Kuluba transit camp. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)


The next day, from his chair under an acacia tree, Alfred shouts his commands as his sons set up a tent. The sons cut branches from surrounding trees to build the frame of Alfred's dwelling.

As the women and children settle in, Alfred and his wife, Kassa, reminisce.

"We met at home 70 years ago. No, 60! And this is my only wife," Alfred says.

Alfred and Kassa have to move inside the unfinished tent with the others when a fierce storm moves in. They all cling to each other, 10 people on 5 square meters (54 square feet) of dirt floor.

Alfred whispers: "Are we going to get a solid house and not a tent?"

Tens of thousands of the refugees already have built the type of brick homes that Alfred now desires to replace the mud hut in South Sudan he was forced to abandon.

The couple does not hold out hope of returning home to South Sudan.

"I saw the killing, I saw burning houses, I saw the dead with their throats slashed," Alfred says, clutching his cowboy hat tightly. "I cannot go back and see it again."


In this Wednesday March 29, 2017 photo, Ringo Gwiya, 80, a blind South Sudanese refugee, crosses the bridge over the Kaya River linking South Sudan to Uganda near Busia. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

 

In this Wednesday March 29, 2017 photo, Jenifer Juan, daughter of Alfred Wani, sits next to Ringo Gwiya, center, in a minibus after being processed by U.N. officials in Busia, Uganda. They were later transported to the Kuluba transit camp. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

 

In this Thursday March 30, 2017 photo, South Sudanese refugee Mary Kide and her son, Desem, stand in line with others, including Samson Tabani, left, to get a medical check up at the Kuluba transit camp. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

 

In this Friday March 31, 2017 photo, Alfred Wani sits in a communal tent at the Kuluba, Uganda, transit camp, waiting for transport to Imvepi camp. Alfred is one of more than 800,000 South Sudanese who have fled to Uganda just since July. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

 

In this Tuesday, April 4, 2017 photo, Alfred Wani holds a faded photograph of some of his sons. Wani, 80, fled South Sudan's civil war and crossed into Uganda with his bibles, a family photo album, his wife Kassa, three goats and 27 relatives. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

 

In this Friday March 31, 2017 photo, Vickie, 4, holds a hair brush in her mouth she walks in the Kuluba, Uganda, transit camp. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

 

In this Friday March 31, 2017 photo, South Sudanese refugees board buses at the Kuluba transit camp in Uganda. Over 1000 refugees transit daily through Kuluba and are then transported to Imvepi for permanent settlement. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

 

In this Friday March 31, 2017 photo, Daniel Kampa, 8, sits in a ray of light by his suitcase in a communal tent at the Kuluba, Uganda, transit camp, waiting for transport to the Imvepi camp. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

 

In this Friday March 31, 2017 photo, South Sudanese refugees board buses at the Kuluba transit camp in Uganda. Over 1000 refugees transit daily through here and are then transported to Imvepi for permanent settlement. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

 

In this Friday March 31, 2017 photo, Alfred Wani and his wife, Kassa, sit in a bus at the Kuluba transit camp. Over 1,000 refugees transit daily through Kuluba and are then transported to Imvepi for permanent settlement. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

 

In this Thursday, April 6, 2017 photo, South Sudanese children carry water jugs down a road in the new Imvepi refugee settlement in northern Uganda. In the background are the communal tents for the processing center. Imvepi is growing at a rate of over 2,000 refugees each day. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

 

In this Friday, March 31, 2017 photo, Alfred Wani greets an elderly South Sudanese woman as they wait for medical help at the Imvepi refugee settlement in northern Uganda. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

 

In this Saturday, April 1, 2017 photo, Ide Djen, 29, a South Sudanese refugee from Kenienba, holds an empty bottle of water as she waits by water pumps in the Imvepi refugee settlement in northern Uganda. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

 

In this Monday, April 3, 2017 photo, Alfred Wani lays on a bed in the clinic at the Imvepi refugee settlement in northern Uganda. Alfred fell ill during the night and had to have blood drawn. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

 

In this Monday, April 3, 2017 photo, Stella, 10, comforts her grandmother, Kassa, whose husband, Alfred, is in the camp's clinic waiting for blood results at the Imvepi refugee settlement in northern Uganda. Alfred's illness postponed the family's scheduled resettlement by a day. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

 

In this Saturday, April 1, 2017 photo, laundry dries on a tree in the new Imvepi refugee settlement in northern Uganda. Imvepi is growing at a rate of over 2,000 refugees each day. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

 

In this Wednesday March 29, 2017 photo, laundry is set to dry on the perimeter fence surrounding the Imvepi refugee settlement processing center in northern Uganda. There were high hopes that South Sudan would have peace and stability after its independence from neighboring Sudan in 2011. But the country plunged into ethnic violence in December 2013 when forces loyal to President Salva Kiir, a Dinka, started battling those loyal to Riek Machar, his former vice president who is a Nuer. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

 

In this Monday, April 3, 2017 photo in the Imvepi camp, South Sudanese refugees gather under a tree from which names are announced for those allocated a land parcel from the Ugandan government. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

 

In this Monday, April 3, 2017 photo in the Imvepi camp, South Sudanese refugees gather under a tree from which names are announced for those allocated a land parcel from the Ugandan government. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

 

In this Tuesday, April 4, 2017 photo in the Imvepi camp, Alfred Wani and his family wait to load their belongings in trucks to be taken to the plots of land they were allocated by the Ugandan government for their resettlement. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

 

In this Tuesday, April 4, 2017 photo in the Imvepi camp, Alfred Wani and his family wait to load up their belongings in trucks to be taken to the plots of land they were allocated by the Ugandan government for their resettlement. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

 

In this Tuesday, April 4, 2017 photo in the Imvepi camp, Alfred Wani and his family travel in trucks to the plots of land they were allocated by the Ugandan government for their resettlement. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

 

In this Tuesday, April 4, 2017 photo in the Imvepi camp, Alfred Wani and his family travel in trucks to the plots of land they were allocated by the Ugandan government for their resettlement. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

 

In this Tuesday, April 4, 2017 photo in the Imvepi camp, Alfred Wani disembarks from a truck that took him and family to the plots of land they were allocated by the Ugandan government for their resettlement. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

 

In this Tuesday, April 4, 2017 photo in the Imvepi camp, Jenifer Juan points at children as her parents, Alfred and Kassa Wani rest on chairs after traveling by truck to the plots of land they were allocated by the Ugandan government for their resettlement. Imvepi is growing at a rate of over 2,000 refugees each day. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

 

In this Tuesday, April 4, 2017 photo in the Imvepi camp, Michael Louwe and his second wife, Cellina Poni, scout the plots of land they were allocated by the Ugandan government for their resettlement with his parents, Alfred and Kassa, and the rest of their clan. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

 

In this Wednesday, April 5, 2017 photo in the Imvepi camp, Samson Wani grabs a flapping plastic cover during a rain storm on the plot of land he and family were allocated by the Ugandan government for their resettlement. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

 

In this Wednesday, April 5, 2017 photo in the Imvepi camp, Samson Wani comforts his uncle, Michael Lowe, during a rain storm on the plot of land he and family were allocated by the Ugandan government for their resettlement. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

 

In this Thursday, April 6, 2017 photo in the Imvepi camp, Alfred Wani builds a temporary shelter that will be called home on the plot of land he and family were allocated by the Ugandan government for their resettlement. Wani, a farmer, shares a few regrets: “If I was young again, I would raise more cattle, and build a good house in concrete, and also pay for my kids’ school. I didn’t go to school and neither did my children.” (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

 

In this Thursday, April 6, 2017 photo in the Imvepi camp, Alfred Wani sits with relatives in their just-built temporary shelter that will be called home on the plot of land he and his family were allocated by the Ugandan government for their resettlement. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

 

In this Friday, April 7, 2017 photo in the Imvepi camp, Tito walks on the plot of land he and family were allocated by the Ugandan government for their resettlement. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

 

In this Thursday, April 6, 2017 photo in the Imvepi camp, Alfred Wani rests in the just built temporary shelter that will be called home on the plot of land he and family were allocated by the Ugandan government for their resettlement. Wani, a farmer, shares a few regrets: “If I was young again, I would raise more cattle, and build a good house in concrete, and also pay for my kids’ school. I didn’t go to school and neither did my children.” (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

 

In this Friday, April 7, 2017 photo in the Imvepi camp, Alfred Wani and his wife Kassa pose for a formal photo on the plot of land they were allocated by the Ugandan government for their resettlement. The couple does not hold out hope of returning home to South Sudan. “I saw the killing, I saw burning houses, I saw the dead with their throats slashed,” Alfred says. “I cannot go back and see it again.” (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)


Text from the AP news story,  'I cannot go back': South Sudan refugee clan begins new life, by Jerome Delay. 

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