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Returnee profile: Juan Gore (39)

 INSP 06 July 2019

Juan Gore's journey across Africa was driven by a search for peace and a better education. The 39-year old grew up in Juba, the capital of war-torn Southern Sudan. She was educated in down town Juba, but when the war intensified in 1986, villagers from across the state fled to the town, seeking refuge in school buildings. Many schools closed for three or six months at a time. Bombs destroyed parts of the town and the situation became more and more insecure. (1118 Words) - By Danielle Batist


SNS: returnee profile: Juan Gore

After 25 years living abroad as a refugee, Juan returned home.  Photo: Simon Murphy

Juan's father decided to send her and her brother to Sudan's capital Khartoum to stay with a relative.  There were hardly any roads from the south to the north and travelling through the conflict zones was dangerous. He managed to get them on to a cargo plane. Juan remembers the day like it was yesterday: "A big crowd had gathered at the airport. No one had a ticket, people were just pulling each other in. There were no seats, we all sat on the floor. People where afraid to enter, none of us had flown before. When the plane was packed, it took off. It was very hot and people were vomiting; everything was happening. I was relieved when we finally landed."

Juan and her brother were lucky enough to have an uncle waiting for them in Khartoum. Others were less fortunate and did not have anywhere to go. Aid organisations were overwhelmed by the number of refugees arriving in the capital. Camps were set up in the desert, without even enough of the basics like drinking water. As the volunteer director of the Sudan Council of Churches, Juan's uncle tried to help his countrymen in the camps, some of whom were starving.

Juan was sent to a boarding school, where she got treated like the other children. Throughout the 11 years she stayed in Khartoum, however, she was aware of the differences between north and south. Southerners often worked in the households of rich northerners, and basic public services like education, health care and infrastructure were much more developed in the north than in the south.

When she married her husband James Wani in 1997, the fighting had still not eased. Tensions were growing and the bloody civil war was costing more lives every day. The couple decided the country became too dangerous for them to stay or start a family. They scraped the money they had together and fled across the border with Chad. They registered with the UN refugee office, who provided them with shelter and some money for food. However, their application for asylum got rejected and soon, they were on the move again. The couple got accepted as refugees in Cameroon, where they stayed for four years. Although they were looked after by the UN refugee council and managed to learn some French, James wanted to move on to Egypt. Years before, he had studied in Cairo but left before he got his certificate. His determination to collect it convinced Juan, although only just. The years of insecurity had made her hesitant to move again. Egypt also took the family in as refugees, although the services provided for them were much less than in Cameroon. Juan managed to get a temporary job as a community health worker and worked as a cleaner for the former British ambassador in Egypt. As the war back in Sudan continued, Juan and James got four children in Cairo. After the signing of the peace agreement in 2005, James started making plans for the family to return to South Sudan. After decades of civil war, Juan was hesitant to bring her young family to Juba. In 2007, James could no longer resist his longing for home. He packed a bag and headed for Juba, hoping to set up a new family home. Juan did not follow him until last month.

On the 8th of June, Juan Gore stepped back on South Sudanese ground. She fled her home town of Juba as a teenager, and crossed the border with Chad as a refugee in her early twenties. She moved from country to country, until she was granted refugee status in Cameroon and later Egypt. And now, 25 years on, she is back home.


The reunion with her husband -who came back four years ago- has done her good, she says. But when asked whether she is ready to settle back in the new republic of South Sudan, her eyes look worried. "I came back because I wanted to see what was going on here. When I arrived yesterday, I was shown our new family ground. They showed an empty space and said: this is your plot."


Realising she will have to start from scratch in one of the poorest countries in the world, she is concerned about her family. For this first visit back to Sudan, she has left her school-going children - aged 10, 8 and 4 and a toddler- with a relative in Egypt. She is grateful to be back after all these years. "It feels like home here. I am happy. If I didn't have children, I would come straight back. But how can my children accept this situation? There is no healthcare, no education, no light at night. The children have computers in their school in Cairo. Since James moved to Juba, they ask me: can Dad email us? They have no idea what life is like here."


After 24 hours back in Juba, Juan is not convinced she can move her family back yet. She is hopeful for the new country, but also sees how huge the task ahead is: "Maybe after July 9 it will get better. Let development happen. If my husband can get a good job, maybe we can buy electricity generators and build our lives here."


Her arrival and first impressions have made her realise just how devastating an effect the war has had on her beloved country. "The airport before the war was better than the airport after the war. The children who are schooling today are worse off than when I went to school. That is not right, but I understand the situation we are in because of the war."


After years of communicating by phone, Juan's desire to reunite her family is huge. James is determined to help build the future of his country, but at the end of her first day back in Juba, Juan is still torn. "If we want to be together, the children will be the victims." Looking to her husband and then up to the sunny, blue sky, she shakes her head: "It is a very tough decision and I don't know what I will do."

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