Tag Archives: Mass Exodus

Inside South Sudan: Pete Muller Photographs Yida’s Refugees

In many ways, Yida is the South Sudan of popular imagination. Small Cessnas, ferrying medicine and other essential supplies, land on a tattered airstrip lined with beleaguered faces. The sprawling landscape is scorched and unforgiving. What little vegetation existed has been slashed and used by the camp’s more than 20,000 inhabitants to build basic shelters. Modest huts, made entirely of wood and thatch, dot a landscape that seems wholly unfit for human settlement.

The refugee camp in Yida rests approximately 18 miles south of the new and contested border between Sudan and South Sudan. To its north lies the embattled state of Southern Kordofan, where southern-aligned rebels wage a bitter and protracted insurgency against the northern government. In recent months, northern forces, operating under the command of Sudanese President Omar Al- Bashir, have employed brutal tactics to suppress the rebellion to no avail. An indiscriminate campaign of aerial bombardment has forced a mass exodus of Nuba civilians, more than 100,000 of whom have taken refuge in camps like Yida.

As fighting in Southern Kordofan and other adjacent border regions intensified in recent weeks, aid agencies in Yida reported a sharp rise in the number of new arrivals. Many come by foot, having walked for days to escape the high altitude bombers that have become a hallmark of the war. While Yida offers relative security, its extremely isolated location creates concern among aid agencies over their ability to provide adequate services for the rapidly swelling population. Food and water are scarce, electricity and phone networks are non-existent and political dynamics within the camp are contentious and secretive. The impending rain season threatens to turn the camp into a muddy and chaotic bastion of want and disease.

During the week I spent in Yida and neighboring camps, during which I provided visual media support for an Amnesty International research mission looking into wide-ranging human rights concerns in the area, I experienced alternating waves of inspiration and dismay. In nearly three years of covering South Sudan’s precarious transition to independence, I have yet to encounter a more welcoming, perseverant and intellectually driven community as the one I found in Yida. Despite dire circumstances, I met countless individuals who maintain an awe-inspiring thirst for education, a pursuit that many view as paramount in the battle against injustice and the marginalization of the Nuba people. Tea, coffee and assistance are offered at every turn and dignity defines the social landscape.

While their lives and aspirations have been compromised by this conflict, the mood among Yida’s refugees remains defiant. Many express support for the transformation of the Sudanese government, through forceful means if necessary, in order to bring about a system that more aptly embraces the country’s profound ethnic and racial diversity. “I ask myself why, for centuries, [the northern government] has been pushing us down,” wondered Issac Malak, a refugee from Southern Kordofan who arrived in Yida with hopes of finding employment. “There is no justice in Sudan…and I think of getting back my rights by all means that I have.”

With fighting in Southern Kordofan raging on and rains set to arrive in the coming weeks, the situation for refugees in Yida and other border camps is extremely precarious. “We pray for strength and peace,” says Abdul Rahman, a pastor in one of Yida’s six parishes. When I attended his service last Sunday, the pews of his thatch-roofed church were filled people who sang in tones that seem to put hope ahead of sorrow.

Pete Muller is a photographer based in South Sudan. He was named LightBox’s 2011 Wire Photographer of the Year. See more of his work here.

HSBC Photography Award Winners announced in Paris

An exhibition of this year’s HSBC Award winners, Alinka Echeverria and Zhang Xiao, recently opened at Galerie Baudoin Lebon in Paris. Echeverria’s The Road to Tepeyac, a series on the ubiquitous image of the Virgin of Guadalupe in the pilgrimage to the Basilica of Guadalupe, and Xiao’s Coastline, a series on the mass exodus of Chinese emigrants from the city to the coast, will be at Galerie Baudoin Lebon until September 23. You can read excerpts about the series in French and English by Agnès Sire, artistic adviser, HSBC Award for Photography, below.

Alinka Echeverria - Sur le chemin de Tepeyac, 2009 2.jpg

© Alinka Echeverria

« Chaque année, six millions de pèlerins cheminent vers la basilique de la Guadalupe près de Mexico. Lors de ce pèlerinage, les fidèles décrochent la représentation de cette Vierge qu’ils ont chez eux, quel que soit le support, et la transportent sur le lieu saint pour qu’elle y soit bénie (…) 300 pèlerins ont été photographiés cheminant avec leur trophée pour que ne reste qu’une silhouette de dos avec son précieux fardeau. L’accumulation de personnages, la beauté et l’étrangeté de leur harnachement, constituent une série exceptionnelle qui permet de visualiser la démesure de cette croyance ».
“Every year, six million pilgrims journey towards the Basilica of Guadalupe in Mexico City. During the pilgrimage, the faithful bring some representation of the Virgin of Guadalupe from home, whatever the medium, and carry it on their backs to the holy place for it to be blessed (…) The accumulation of characters, and the beauty and strangeness of the items they carry, create an exceptional series that helps us to visualize the intensity of this belief.”

Zhang Xiao - Coastline 2010 2.jpg

© Zhang Xiao

«Coastline, son projet, illustre les bords de mer qui «sont l’objet d’un rêve pour de nombreux chinois qui quittent les campagnes pour y arriver en masse, pensant y trouver du travail et une vie plus facile. Ces rivages sont les « fenêtres de la Chine » sur le monde extérieur. Xiao Zhang nous livre une dérive étonnante le long de la côte. Il la décrit comme « belle et douloureuse ». Une Chine intime et contemporaine sans aucune facilité exotique».

“Coastline illustrates how the coast is a part of a dream for the many Chinese who leave the countryside hoping to find work and an easier life by the sea. For the Chinese, the shore is like looking through ‘windows’ to the outside world. Zhang sets us adrift along the coast. Describing it as both beautiful and painful, the photographer presents us with an intimate view of contemporary China, without any expression of the exotic.”

Try to see the exhibition if you are in Paris.