The Yida refugee camp, just south of the disputed border between the Republic of Sudan and newly-independent South Sudan, rarely feels like the edge of a warzone. Children chase donkeys and bicycle wheels through the streets, and the men spend the day languidly sipping spicy coffee in the camp’s surprisingly busy marketplace. The warzone is in the Nuba Mountains in the region of Southern Kordofan, a fifteen kilometer trek away, through the desert and across the border with the Republic of Sudan.
Still, it is difficult to be optimistic here. Nearly 100 refugees arrive in Yida every day, seeking an escape from the fighting in the Nuba Mountains, and relief from this past year’s poor harvest, which was greatly reduced by the effects of the war. (Full disclosure: I arranged my travel to Yida through Samaritan’s Purse, an American NGO working in the refugee camp. It paid for my flight from the South Sudanese capital of Juba to the city of Malakal, and permitted me to travel onwards from there in the organization's cargo plane. I also spent one night at their camp in Yida.) Many have been living in Yida’s dust-choked camp for months. All of them harbor thoughts of returning home, but few are hopeful that they’ll be able to anytime soon. Everyone has first-hand experience of the dangers that await them if they try to return to the Nuba Mountains. Based on the scarce reports that are getting out of the region—Khartoum has blocked both humanitarian organizations and human rights observers from entering Southern Kordofan—experts believe that around 150,000 of the 350,000 civilians living in combat areas will face famine conditions by the end of April. According to Yassir Osman, a Nuban employed by one of the small handful of NGOs working in Yida, no one is safe in the north. “In the Nuba Mountains, the Antonovs bomb everything that moves,” he says, referring to the Ukrainian-built cargo planes the Sudanese air force uses for its attacks. “If they see cows, they bomb them. It doesn’t matter.”