Two Liberians, Edwin Taylor and is half brother Sampson Carl Lewis, who escaped the recent fighting South Sudan’s capital Juba are reportedly finding it difficult, if not impossible, to cross over to Uganda.
Taylor and Lewis escaped from Juba, according to the Voice of America (VOA), but had a bad experience with tens of thousands of South Sudanese, who also escaped from their country, because of the recent flare up among two opposing forces.
“We are Liberians [foreigners]. We want to leave the country (South Sudan), but the authorities there said no, we cannot leave. We need to pay money. We are in crisis, how can I get money to pay you? I came to the Uganda side. They embraced me,” said Taylor at the South Sudan/Uganda border where he had escaped with his brother.
The Liberians’ ordeal began with five days of heavy fighting in South Sudan’s capital, Juba, which sent tens of thousands of people fleeing their homes. Some have tried to go south to Uganda, but that highway is considered incredibly dangerous. The few who have made it across the border tell of ambushes and checkpoints wracked by looting and violence.
In the Elegu refugee reception center near the border, the VOA reported that a young South Sudanese woman bursts into tears when she is asked how she fled from Juba.
She says she lived in a suburb of Juba where the fighting started one evening and she says her neighbors took her from her house. Just a few minutes later, she says, her home was bombed and she lost two relatives. She hid in the northern outskirts of Juba before heading south and finding their way onto a bus that took them to the Uganda border.
At military checkpoints, she said men in government Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA) uniforms asked for money from each passenger. When they ran out of money, she says the soldiers took their belongings, including cellphones, laptops and even clothes.
This was also the case for the two Liberian nationals, Taylor and Lewis.
The two Liberian brothers were working in South Sudan. They say on their journey south to Uganda they saw bodies and burnt out cars.
“The road was very dangerous,” they said. “If you get on the roadside, you will see bodies on the road, which are foreigners’ bodies, cars on the road. People who were coming from the capital… They killed these people, took their cars and robbed them. It is not easy. It was by the grace of the God we maneuvered to come here,” said Taylor.
The normally bustling border post in Nimule has emptied of traffic. Police say they have kept Ugandan traders from entering South Sudan as they say their attempt to drive to Juba would be suicide.
One Ugandan woman, who grabbed a bus from Juba when the fighting first began, says government soldiers were keeping South Sudanese from leaving the country. She describes the checkpoints as places of terror.
She says that when they passed through a roadblock, she saw signs of fresh violence. She learned that four people in the car ahead of her were shot. She says she saw one of the passengers who were shot in the leg. She recalls this happened at an SPLA checkpoint.
But an SPLA spokesperson, Lul Ruai Koang, told the VOA he is not aware of any new checkpoints or violence along the road going to Uganda.
Police on the Ugandan side said there has been a spike in people with gunshot wounds coming across the border since fighting resumed in Juba a week ago. Fighting calmed there late Monday after a ceasefire was declared.
The U.N. refugee agency has asked Uganda to prepare for an influx of refugees. Ugandan police say they will cater to all refugees, but they say for now, tightened border control on the South Sudanese side has kept arrivals low.
And Uganda is making plans to keep the fighting off its territory. More than a dozen trucks packed with soldiers, including four Mamba armored vehicles, could be seen making their way to the border last Wednesday.
According to Ugandan army Lieutenant Ahmad Hassan Kato, there have been no skirmishes at the border and the army has no plans to enter South Sudan.