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Konyo Konyo graveyard a comfort zone to refugees  | Coastweek

JUBA (Xinhua) -- A boy sits on a grave as a woman prepares food outside her temporary house at Konyo Konyo burial ground in Juba, capital of South Sudan, Nov. 5, 2017. The graveyard has become a comfort zone to thousands of people who flocked to the capital before or after the east African country gained independence in 2011 and ended up with nowhere to live. XINHUA PHOTOS: GALE JULIUS
Homeless of war-torn South Sudan seek refugee in graveyard

By Julius Gale JUBA(Xinhua) -- The cemetery, situated at Konyo Konyo, in the heart of Juba, was meant to be the resting place for residents who’ve passed away in the South Sudanese capital.

However, the graveyard has become a comfort zone to thousands of people who flocked to the capital before or after the east African country gained independence in 2011 and ended up with nowhere to live.

“I used to fear staying with dead people, but because I have nowhere to go, I have become a friend of our departed brothers and sisters for all these years,” 45-year-old Raymondo Modi told Xinhua.

Modi, a father of 10 children, ended up seeking shelter at the burial ground after he was evicted from a rental house on the outskirt of Juba. He had failed to meet the cost.

Originally from Terekeka, an area 50 miles outside Juba, Modi moved his family to the capital hoping that new opportunities would come his way.

To his astonishment, things did not work out and he was left with no option other than seeking refuge in the graveyard.

“I have named this cemetery St. Mary village to help me remember the church I used to pray in, in my village in Terekeka,” Modi said.

Peddling firewood to earn a living, the self-styled leader of about 3,000 residents of the graveyard said he makes between 50 and 100 South Sudanese pounds (between 0.3 and 0.6 U.S. dollars) a day.

With a biting economic crisis, he and his family are forced to take one simple meal a day, Modi said.

“We can’t afford to buy meat and fish because everything is expensive,” Modi said.

Lack of clean water and inadequate medical and education services make it even harder for Modi and his community.

“Life has become more difficult for the community compared to the early days when I settled here,” he said.

Like Modi, many people who moved to Juba from neighboring areas have ended up in the graveyard under similar circumstances.

James Legge, a father of 12, has spent 14 years at the cemetery after retiring from the army. Legge said the government has failed to pay his retirement package and he was no longer working.

South Sudan is engulfed in a civil war that began in December 2013, killing tens of thousands displacing millions of others.

According to aid organizations operating in the African nation, six million people, half the population of South Sudan, is severely food insecure.

Thousands have flocked to the capital from the hinterlands, expecting to find a little relief but have to end up hustling for life.

“This place is bad. There are a lot of diseases. People are dying every day but since I don’t have anywhere to go, I have decided that I die here and join my brothers,” said 24-year-old Maria Poni, who has spent 12 years at the burial ground.

“The government is free to take my children out of this place, but I’m not leaving because this is my home,” said the mother of four.

Poni is but one example of South Sudanese citizens bearing the brunt of a four-year old conflict that has caused one of the world’s fastest-growing humanitarian crises.

“If the government can reason that they have people suffering in Juba, then I’m hopeful that one day I will go home and live a decent live with my children in the village,” said 70-year-old Evelyna Kaku, another graveyard dweller. “But with what is happening now, I don’t think I will ever see home.”

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