Words and photos by Jason Patinkin in Nyal, South Sudan

Leer county Unity State has been one of the regions in South Sudan hardest hit since conflict in South Sudan broke out again in December 2013.  It is the birthplace of rebel leader Riek Machar, a former vice president, and home of the Dok clan of the Nuer ethnic group.

In early 2014, government troops and their allies, notably Justice Equality Movement rebels from Darfur in Sudan, overran the area. Since May of this year, Leer has been the target of a large government offensive against Machar's insurgents. In that offensive government troops relied on assistance from loyalist Nuer militia, particularly members of the Bul clan from Mayom County and the Jaggey clan from Koch County.

Fighting in Leer has continued after Machar and President Salva Kiir, a Dinka, separately signed a peace deal in August.

All parties to this war have committed extensive abuses against civilians. Recent reports by the UN and Human Rights Watch detailed killings and rapes committed by government forces this year.

Many Leer civilians have fled to small swamp islands known as “tuoch” to escape the violence. Some 20,000 have left the county altogether and arrived in a town called Nyal to the south which has been peaceful, allowing relief workers deliver aid. Below are stories of survivors in Nyal. 

Click on the photo for their story.

 

  James Duok, pharmacist    "You people from the West should be committed to what is happening in South Sudan. You can put this peace as first priority."

James Duok, pharmacist 

"You people from the West should be committed to what is happening in South Sudan. You can put this peace as first priority."

  Joseph Dabuol, teacher   "They took the cattle, they raped women and  especially the girls, they kidnapped people. They killed people, men and women."

Joseph Dabuol, teacher

"They took the cattle, they raped women and  especially the girls, they kidnapped people. They killed people, men and women."

  Joseph Magong, student   "You'd spend all day hiding in the reeds. If the bullet doesn't get you, you are lucky."

Joseph Magong, student

"You'd spend all day hiding in the reeds. If the bullet doesn't get you, you are lucky."

  Maggie Puol, student   "What I want is school. If school was here I'd stay. I'm the only child. All the expectations are with me so I have to get educated and support my mother."

Maggie Puol, student

"What I want is school. If school was here I'd stay. I'm the only child. All the expectations are with me so I have to get educated and support my mother."

  Veronica Nyariey, student   "When they get you they make you a woman, by force, maybe by many people. And if you talk bad things to them they will shoot you."

Veronica Nyariey, student

"When they get you they make you a woman, by force, maybe by many people. And if you talk bad things to them they will shoot you."

  Angelina Nyadiechni, mother   "We will go to the islands and wait until our home becomes calm. We like our home. Home is home."

Angelina Nyadiechni, mother

"We will go to the islands and wait until our home becomes calm. We like our home. Home is home."