Portraits of South Sudanese Refugees

3 minute read

Photographer Ugo Borga has spent the last 15 years in Africa, the Middle East and Europe documenting places devastated by war. In March, he traveled to South Sudan to cover the ongoing conflict that’s been plaguing the country since officially declaring its independence from Sudan in 2011. Borga spent a month in the South Sudanese states of Jongeli, Lakes and Central Equatoria capturing portraits of refugees who are displaced from their homes due to the violence. “The South Sudanese population lives in a disastrous condition,” Borga says. “People are constantly under attack by militias and have abandoned the cultivation of the land and any other economic activity because they are forced to flee.”

Photographing a country in its most fragile state led Borga to be arrested and thrown in jail for espionage in the town of Bor despite holding an official accreditation from the Ministry of Information of the South Sudan Republic to take photographs. “The criminal police in Bor did not recognize the Central State authorities because of the civil war,” he says.

The arrest forced him to flee Bor, and never fully learning of the fate of a newborn he encountered at a hospital there. Borga was told by a midwife that the newborn’s mother, whom he didn’t meet, lost her husband in the conflict and was repeatedly raped by several men, subsequently giving birth to four children from the rapes. Her trauma led her to kill three of her older children and was close to killing her newborn when witnesses on the street saved him. “The baby was a few days old when I found him in the Bor hospital,” he says.

Borga’s black-and-white portraits of the campers show a variety of ages. The toll violence is painfully obvious.

One of the refugees that stood out for Borga was Duku, a child approximately aged eight, whom he met while food was being distributed to the camp. He’s dressed in flip-flops, a t-shirt and a dress that covers his body. Duku lost both his parents and siblings. Helpless, and with no one else to turn to, he walked for two months until arriving at the Mingkamann camp where a refugee family took him in. “He does not talk much about his history,” Borga says on Duku’s background. “I think he needs a lot of time to process what has happened, the grief that he has suffered.”

“What struck me was meeting with children with great resilience,” he says. “In many cases, boys and girls less than ten years old took care of their younger siblings, showing great responsibility and care for them in very difficult situations. I think this is the most touching aspect, both dramatic and consoling of the tragedies I witnessed.”

Ugo Borga is a photographer represented by Echo photo agency.

Marie Tobias, who edited this photo essay, is a senior photo editor at TIME.

Bianca Silva is a writer and contributor to TIME LightBox. Follow her on Twitter.

Mingkamann refugee camp, Lakes state, South Sudan: This woman is no longer able to walk due to hunger. She has not eaten in two days and is unable to answer questions, and asks to have something to eat and drink. Rescued by the CCM staff, she tells of being on the road for over a month, and that she has lost her entire family during the fighting.Ugo Lucio Borga—Echo
Mingkamann refugee camp, Lakes state, South Sudan: Faith, 16, fled with her family from the Upper Nile. This evening she will attend a party with the young boys in the village and hopes to choose a mate.Ugo Lucio Borga—Echo
Mingkamann refugee camp, Lakes state, South Sudan: He does not remember his age and does not want to say his name. He escaped by boat from Bor, in the Jonglei state, and reached Mingkamann. He received assistance from a family of refugees. Many people continue to arrive from Unity, Upper Nile and Jonglei states due to violence.Ugo Lucio Borga—Echo
Mingkamann refugee camp, Lakes state, South Sudan: Rich, 10, fled on foot and then by boat from Bor, in the Jonglei state. He has not heard from his mother and sister, who were lost during the escape. Today he did not find anything to eat. He is hoping to scrounge a bit of food from a family of refugees living along the road.Ugo Lucio Borga—Echo
Mingkamann refugee camp, Lakes state, South Sudan: Chef (nickname) has lived in this refugee camp for a year. He does not have a precise idea of his age. His daughter suffered violence and reported a very strong psychological trauma. He escaped from the state of Jonglei, but does not want to say the name of the village.Ugo Lucio Borga—Echo
Mingkamann refugee camp, Lakes state, South Sudan: Ayen, 28, has five children. She ran away from Bor, Jonglei state, because of the fighting and violence. She does not want to speak about what happened to the rest of her family.Ugo Lucio Borga—Echo
Mingkamann refugee camp, Lakes state, South Sudan: Duku, about 8 years old, reached the Mingkaman refugee camp after two months of walking. He has remained completely alone, but was greeted by another family of refugees. He has no memory of what happened to his family and does not want to talk about it.Ugo Lucio Borga—Echo
Mingkamann refugee camp, Lakes state, South Sudan: Ayul, 68, lives here with his family. He fled from Jonglei state because of the fighting. He has lost two children due to famine.Ugo Lucio Borga—Echo
Mingkamann refugee camp, Lakes state, South Sudan: Juma, 38, fled to Mingkaman because of clashes in the Jonglei state. He lives in the refugee camp with his wife. He hopes to build a house with wooden branches and mud, because they no longer want to live in a tent.Ugo Lucio Borga—Echo

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