On the Brink of an Abyss: Fabio Bucciarelli in South Sudan

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Fabio Bucciarelli—AFP/Getty Images
Feb. 5, 2014. Internally displaced South Sudanese in a temporary camp for internally displaced persons in Mingkaman, South Sudan.

The last time I was in South Sudan was just after its independence. I remember the look on people’s faces — tired but happy, hopeful for a better future after a past full of pain and war. Today, only a couple of short years later, South Sudan is on the brink of an abyss.

The conflict, which began with a power struggle between President Salva Kiir of the Dinka ethnicity, and his deputy Machar, of the Nuer ethnic group, is now likely to transform into a full blown ethnic war.

Over the past two weeks — with help of the Italian NGO CCM (Comitato Collaborazione Medica) — I moved from Juba to Yirol, crossing Mingakaman. Where, over several days, I documented some of the hundreds of thousands of refugees displaced by the current unrest.

These refugees construct makeshift shelters out of seemingly nothing. Under a tropical sun and in scorching temperatures, they seek shelter in the shade of leafless trees, without food, health and medical services. Some non-governmental organizations are working on the ground to provide assistance — trying in vain to alleviate the suffering of these new people without land.

A Dinka man who considers himself lucky to have escaped the recent raids told me, “It seems to be back to 1993. When they deprived us of everything, even of dignity,” In South Sudan, as with all conflicts, it is innocent civilians who are the real victims of war.

Later, from Mingakaman I went to Yirol, where I arrived at a government hospital supported by the NGO CUAMM. It was a hellish scene: injured men, women and children seemingly everywhere; and all this the result of clashes between government soldiers and rebels in East Yirol county near Adior.

I decided to stay there a few days longer than expected, to get in touch with the SPLA Government troops. While I waited, I visited areas not affected by the war to discover the faces of people who live like their ancestors did hundreds of years ago. Then, after a few days, I received a phone call from General Lt. Col Juma Rian Deng, to let me know that I can move with his brigade on the ground—as an unstable South Sudan moves towards a daunting and uncertain future.


Fabio Bucciarelli is a documentary photographer who focuses on conflicts and the humanitarian consequences of war. Fabio has spent many years covering major events in Africa and the Middle East


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