SOUTH Sudanese Anglicans seeking refuge in Ethiopia are building churches in refugee camps, because a return home remains uncertain, the Area Bishop for the Horn of Africa, Dr Grant LeMarquand, reported this month.
Wary of their country’s leadership, they are constructing churches to cope with swelling congregations. “Most don’t trust the leaders in the country, or the peace treaty they have signed,” Dr LeMarquand said.
Ethiopia is home to more South Sudanese refugees than any other neighbouring country: 225,000 out of a total of 766,075. Almost three-quarters (70 per cent) of them are children. The population of the country’s Gambella region, on the border, has almost doubled since the break-out of conflict in Juba in December 2013 (News, 20 December 2013).
Dr Marquand, who has oversight of Eritrea, Djibouti, Somalia, and Ethiopia, said that the Church’s response was constrained by government restrictions. It is not registered to do relief or development work, and does not have the capacity to do so “for the foreseeable future”. But it has brought food and clothing to not-yet-registered refugees, particularly those camped out in the church’s compounds or those living with members of its congregations.
There were “dozens” of NGOs at work supplying humanitarian aid, he reported. “We are seeking to help newly arrived Anglicans to organise congregations, and to build churches in the refugee camps.”
Four new congregations have been established at the Pinyudu 2 camp, led by three deacons and Readers, all newly arrived from South Sudan. A few weeks ago, he visited the original Pinyudu camp — home to 40,000 refugees even before the start of the latest exodus from South Sudan — to bless new churches and to confirm about 200 people.
“It was difficult, since none of our Pinyudu church buildings can hold the congregation that came to worship that morning — somewhere between 600 and 800; so we had to worship outside in the blazing sun.”
The future for residents of the camps is uncertain, he said. “I don’t think that most refugees want to leave. They have become — are becoming — dependent. It is more comfortable to have rations provided than farming for yourself, which is why many non-refugees are pretending to be refugees.
“The security situation, roads, and job opportunities are better in Ethiopia than in South Sudan, which is why many refugees pretend to be Ethiopian. . .
“So this refugee situation will not go away quickly.”