For the second time in his life, a man from Sudan must flee to escape the death and destruction in his own country
Nabil Abbass Opeta’s skin is permanently creased from 53 years of living under the intense African sun. Hair has retreated from his forehead and is speckled with white on his chin—a visible reminder that time stands still for no man.GiveAnd yet there is a youthful resilience in Nabil’s strong, dark eyes, especially as he explains how he was forced to flee his home in the Nuba Mountains of Sudan for the second time in his life.
“My family and I have lost our home again,” he says simply. “I was a refugee during the first civil war.”
A sly smile crosses Nabil’s face. Clearly he is not resigned to his current situation, but instead believes it is just temporary.
Fleeing the First Time
That’s because Nabil has lost everything before. He was forced to run for his life the first time in September 1983, when former Sudan president Gaafar Nimeiry imposed Islamic Shari’a laws on the entire country, including non-Muslims in the Nuba Mountains and throughout the south. Nimeiry followed that up by imposing martial law in May 1984.
War waged for the next 20 years, with an estimated 2 million people killed in one of the bloodiest conflicts ever to stain Africa’s history. Nabil, his wife, and their children were among the 4 million people displaced by the struggle. His story is similar to many others.
“We fled Khartoum in fear for our lives,” he recalls as if it were days ago rather than decades. “If we had stayed, we certainly would’ve been killed, like so many others we knew.”
The fighting finally ended in 2005 with the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement. And a new nation rose from the ashes when South Sudan declared independence in 2011.
However, the agreement did not give the Nuba Mountains the right to join South Sudan in its vote for independence. Terror campaigns against the region by the Sudan government continue to this day.
A New Reign of Terror
For years now, Sudan president Omar al-Bashir has orchestrated a brutal assault on the non-Arab Nubans, sending troops to bomb and burn villages, gun down civilians, and clear the mountain region of any possible resistance to his iron rule. Nabil and thousands of others from the region find themselves on the run again. And Nabil believes “we are heading for another civil war.”
But if Nabil has learned anything after being forced into exile, not once but twice in his lifetime, it is patience.
“It is difficult, sure,” he said. “But we can’t control our situation, only God can do that. We must have faith in Him.”
Nabil is taking on a leadership role in Ajoung Thok, a newly established refugee camp in South Sudan where Samaritan’s Purse is working. Educated in Khartoum, this former primary school teacher is instructing the children here until schools can be constructed.
He is also drawing on past experience to serve as the refugee leader on a three-person council. He is compassionate, smart, and hands-on. And though he may have lost his home and most of his belongings, Nabil has not lost his dignity or sense of purpose.
“I am a farmer, we are all farmers, and we can provide for ourselves,” he said. “The host community asks us for our food rations, but we’d rather teach them how to grow food for themselves. All we need is the land.”
But the Nubans are not allowed to own land because they are refugees in a different country. All they have is time on their hands. So they wait. Some want to stay, while many others hope to return to their homes in the Nuba Mountains. Until that day comes, they work to create a community of their own.
Another Opportunity to Help in Jesus’ Name
A growing number of Nubans are fleeing their homes in Sudan for Ajuong Thok, which currently hosts more than 2,500 men, women, and children with more arriving every day. They live in temporary shelters and receive monthly food rations.
Ana Bashir walked for 10 days with her husband, sister, and four children to reach the camp. They had nothing to eat but bark, leaves, and bugs along the way. By the time the family reached Ajuong Thok, they were starving, and Ana’s 1-year-old daughter Hannah was suffering from severe malnutrition.
Samaritan’s Purse staff based at Ajuong Thok were able to provide medical care and nutritional supplements for Hannah. In just two short weeks after arriving, Hannah was already showing significant signs recovery.
“I am so grateful for Samaritan’s Purse,” Ana said. “Without you, my daughter would surely have died. Praise God for you.”
The refugee crisis in South Sudan continues without an immediate end in sight. Samaritan’s Purse plans to be in Ajuong Thok, in Yida, and in Doro, for as long as we are needed.
Your prayers and support are greatly appreciated as we continue to provide ongoing relief in the Name of Jesus Christ to thousands of refugees in need.
Nabil, Ana, and many others in exile need for peace to come to Sudan so they can return to their lives in the Nuba Mountains.