Approximately a dozen villages once home to Anuaks have been obliterated since the Nuer stepped up their attacks.
By Julie Buntjer |
Worthington, MN―You may have seen him around town — at a gathering or community event — and you’d know him by a name other than Meerbeer.
He’s a relatively new American. It was nearly eight years ago that he came to the United States as a refugee. He wears a suit jacket and tie, he walks with confidence and he carries with him one of those cell phones that connects him instantly to the world through text messages, social media sites and, well, phone calls.
America has given Meerbeer the opportunity to dream, while his brothers and sisters — the Anuak people of southwest Ethiopia — simply want to live another day, and another day after that.
He chose the name Meerbeer to share this story because in his native language of Anuak, it means “Peace is good.”
He fears revealing his real name and his picture in an American newspaper, with its connections to the world through its website and social media, could get his family arrested, tortured or even killed.
In his homeland today, there continues an ethnic clash between the Anuaks in the Gambella Region of Ethiopia and the Nuers of South Sudan. Just last week, the Nuers — identifiable by the six scars they are marked with across their forehead — went into the Gambella Regional State Correctional Facility and started pulling Anuak men from their cell, leading them outside and shooting them dead.
Seven were murdered before an eighth man, seeing the dead as he was guided outside, tried to flee. Gunfire erupted; the eighth man was shot and killed. The blast alerted the townspeople to the killings, and the rest of the Anuak prisoners survived to live another day.
Meerbeer said the Nuers have imported guns and ammunition from South Sudan. The Nuers lost their war with the Southern Sudan government and are frustrated with the delay of a peace treaty. As a result, they are moving into the Gambella Region, and the Ethiopian government is accommodating them by providing jobs and schooling.
Meerbeer has received images of the most recent bloodshed — photographs taken by Anuaks and shared with him through Facebook Messenger. There’s a risk in communicating with his family and friends from home; he said the government is watching and fears all communications are being tracked. Yet, they communicate anyway.
Imagine living halfway around the world from your family, knowing these massacres are taking place. Wouldn’t you want to know what is happening?
Meerbeer does. At the same time, the images — the information — makes him weep.
He lost a brother-in-law last week, along with the husband of one of his nieces, and he said other Anuaks now living in Worthington have also lost family members.
Meerbeer has two brothers and two sisters living in the Gambella Region. His dad still lives there, too — he became disabled a year ago. If the Nuers attacked with their assault rifles and machetes, Meerbeer said his father would have no way to defend himself.
The unarmed Anuaks are no match for the weapons used by the Nuer as they push the Anuaks eastward and upstream from their homeland. Opposition leader Rick Machar is supporting the Nuers.
Meerbeer maintains the Ethiopian government is doing nothing to protect the Anuak people. He said the government did nothing in 2003, when more than 400 Anuak men and boys were killed in a span of three December days — the largest death toll in the sporadic fighting with the highlanders.
Now, Meerbeer said he believes the Ethiopian government is helping the Nuer to kill the Anuak people. He said federal police and soldiers watch on the street as Nuers murder Anuaks.
“It’s also believed that Rick Machar is waging revenge on the Anuak by saying the Anuak from the south did not support his fight against the Dinka of the south,” he said.
According to census data from 2007, there were just 64,000 Anuak remaining in Gambella Region. While hundreds have been killed, thousands more have fled to the Ifo and Dedap refugee camps across the border in Kenya and in South Sudan. Hundreds of Anuaks are imprisoned in Addis Ababa, including former Gov. Okello Akway Ochalla.
Meerbeer said attacks on the Anuak by the Ethiopian government in 2003 have been pleaded through the International Criminal Court for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity, but “now they’re going back and doing the same thing.”
“The government is saying the Anuak are not complying with policies” related to oil in the Gambella Region, Meerbeer said. Prior to this latest bloodshed, the government was selling land of the Anuak people, displacing thousands of them while allowing investors from India, Saudi Arabia and China to come in.
Meerbeer said the Nuer need more land for their people, which has fueled the most recent attacks on the Anuak people.
“A lot of people I worked wit h and relate with are being killed,” Meerbeer said Thursday morning. He’s not the only Worthington resident keeping an eye on the news out of the Gambella Region. Worthington is home to nearly 300 Anuak refugees. Hundreds more live in cities like Sioux Falls, S.D., Austin and Minneapolis/St. Paul.
Approximately a dozen villages once home to Anuaks have been obliterated since the Nuer stepped up their attacks. An unknown number of Anuaks are dead; a majority escaped and, now displaced, have no food, no clean water and no shelter.
The Nuer have overtaken the villages of Liar, Pulkoda, Pingiew, Cham, Ideni, Pojoo, Imedho, Elia-Kirageeta, Pungua, Itiel, Pukeedi, Yowaalo, Pool, Pino, Pingman and others, Meerbeer said.
On Monday, his hometown in the Gambella region came under attack by Nuer fighters set on burning up the village. Ethiopian soldiers captured 20 of the Nuer before fighters retreated.
The attack came just one day after Meerbeer and his fellow Anuaks in Worthington collected money to send to their people in Gambella Region. It isn’t the first time they have taken up a collection and wired funds to a church there. Meerbeer said approximately 28,000 Anuaks have been displaced as a result of the ethnic clashes.
“We were able to send $1,000 last time so the displaced people have some food to eat and some water,” Meerbeer said as tears slowly crept down his cheeks.
As he weeps for his people, Meerbeer acknowledges, “In America, now I’m safe.”
His tears signal a feeling of helplessness. But he’s an American now … an American with hopes.
“If there’s anything our senators can do to push the government to do something for the Anuak,” he pleaded. “We are bleeding.”
“I’m asking the peaceful city of Worthington — a place I call home — and its loving and kind people for prayer,” said Meerbeer. “I want the churches of Worthington to pray that God brings peace to that region and that the Anuak can be safe.”
He is also asking for financial support to help the displaced Anuaks. Locally, the Anuak people gather at the Christian Reformed Church and Westminster Presbyterian Church. Meerbeer said donations may be dropped off at either church, specified for the Anuak people.
Source: Grand Forks Herald