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The Last Meaningful Thing In The Arms Of A Refugee

"I've had this stick since I went blind six years ago. My son led me along the road with it. Without it, and him, I would be dead now." Photographer Brian Sokol reports on the refugees of Sudan.

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Brian Sokol’s ongoing photo series “The Most Important Thing” captures the faces and stories of refugees forced to flee their homes due to heinous conflicts, leaving with the last meaningful object they were able to escape with.

In the first chapter published by BuzzFeed, Brian documented the faces and stories of those affected by the Syrian Civil War.

In this second chapter, Brian focuses on those displaced by the horrendous conflict in Southern Sudan. There were approximately 400,000 new refugees registered between January and August 2014, while according to U.N. figures there are now 6.9 million people in need of humanitarian assistance in Sudan.

Haja Tilim, age 55.

Brian Sokol

The most important thing that Haja was able to bring with her is the patterned shawl, called a "taupe," with which she carried her 18-month-old granddaughter, Bal Gaze.

Haja brought nothing else with her, not even shoes, during the family's 25-day journey from Fadima to the South Sudanese border. When a bomb was dropped on the home of her neighbor Issa Unis, he was killed instantly. That night, Haja and her family fled their home in Fadima Village, in Sudan's Blue Nile State. She recalls, "I started to run while wearing my sandals, but they slowed me down, so I threw them on the side of the trail."

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Ahmed Sadik, age 10.

Brian Sokol

The most important thing that Ahmed was able to bring with him is "Kako," his pet monkey.

Ahmed says that he couldn't imagine life without his best friend Kako, and that the most difficult thing about leaving Blue Nile was having to leave his family's donkey behind. Kako and Ahmed made the five-day journey from Taga to the South Sudanese border together in the back of a truck. Ahmed and his family had to flee their home in the Taga Village of Sudan's Blue Nile State, after continued campaign of aerial bombardment began.

Howard Serad, age 21.

Brian Sokol

The most important object that Howard was able to bring with him is the long knife he holds, called a "shefe," with which he was able to defend his family and his herd of 20 cattle during their 20-day journey from Bau County to the South Sudanese border.

Exchanges of gunfire and aerial bombardment forced Howard, with his wife and six children, to flee their home in Bau County, in Sudan's Blue Nile State, four months earlier.

Dowla Barik, age 22.

Brian Sokol

The most important object that Dowla was able to bring with her is the wooden pole balanced over her shoulder, with which she carried her six children during the 10-day journey from Gabanit to South Sudan.

Several months before, Dowla and her six children fled from their village of Gabanit in Sudan's Blue Nile State after numerous bombing raids forced them from their home. At times, the children were too tired to walk, forcing her to carry two on either side.

Magboola Alhadi, age 20.

Brian Sokol

The most important thing that Magboola was able to bring with her is the saucepan she holds in this photograph.

It wasn't the largest pot that she had in Bofe, but it was small enough that she could travel with it, yet big enough to cook sorghum for herself and her three daughters. Magboola and her family weathered aerial bombing raids for several months, but decided it was time to leave their village of Bofe the night that soldiers arrived and opened fire. With her three children, she traveled for 12 days from Bofe to the town of El Fudj, on the South Sudanese border.

Maria Hamed, age 10.

Brian Sokol

The most important thing that Maria was able to bring with her is the water container (called a jerrican) that she holds in this photograph.

Four months before this photograph was taken, soldiers arrived in Maria's village of Makaja, in Sudan's Blue Nile State. In the middle of the night, they set fire to her house, burning it, and all the food inside, to the ground. The next day she set out, shoeless, for the South Sudanese border -- a journey that would take her three months to complete. Along the way she suffered from malaria, and at one point went five days without a meal.

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Hasan Chata, who is unsure of his age, but imagines himself to be between 60 and 70 years old.

Brian Sokol

The most important object that Hasan was able to bring with him is the empty wallet he holds.

Though he is now broke, he left Maganza with enough money to buy food for his family during their 25-day journey from Maganza to the South Sudanese border. Fighting forced Hasan and his family to flee their home in Maganza Village, in Sudan's Blue Nile State, four months before this photograph was taken.

Al Haj Mattar Musu, age 27.

Brian Sokol

The most important thing that Al Haj was able to bring with him is the whip that he holds in this photograph.

He says that without the whip, he wouldn't have been able to keep together his herd of 50 goats, and he would now be destitute. Driven out by war, Al Haj travelled from his village of Lahmar in Sudan's Blue Nile State to seek refuge in South Sudan. During his journey, he was ill with malaria, making it an even more difficult process.

Omar Belu Garmut, who is unsure of his exact age, but believes himself to be between 60 and 70 years old.

Brian Sokol

The most important thing that Omar was able to bring with him is the axe he holds in this photograph.

He used it to cut firewood for cooking, and to make small wooden structures where his family would sleep at night, and sometimes to rest for several days at a time, during their journey. Before fleeing from his village of Bofe, he was a farmer. He and his family weathered aerial bombing raids for several months, but decided it was time to leave their home and land when soldiers came to Bofe in the night and opened fire. With his two wives and 16 children, he travelled for 12 days from Bofe to the town of El Fudj, on the South Sudanese border.

Asha Babur, age 28.

Brian Sokol

The most important things that Asha was able to bring with her are the bracelets, or "kubasha," that she holds in this photograph.

"I couldn't carry anything with me. I just ran with what I was wearing. Everything I have now I bought in Jamam, except these bracelets, which are the only beautiful things I have from home." She and her family weathered aerial bombing raids for months, but decided it was time to flee when gun battles erupted in their village.

Shari Jokulu, age 75, and her son Osman Thawk, age 40.

Brian Sokol

The most important thing that Shari was able to bring with her is the stick that she holds in this photograph. Says Shari, "I've had this stick since I went blind six years ago. My son led me along the road with it. Without it, and him, I would be dead now."

For five months Shari and Osman went from village to village, trying to find safety. At points, Shari grew so hungry that she ate the leaves of the lalof tree to put something in her stomach. Some of the friends and neighbors who accompanied them along the way died of illness or hunger. Despite their movements, conflict followed them everywhere they went.

Taiba Yusuf, age 15.

Brian Sokol

Unlike the other people pictured in this series of photographs, Taiba holds no object, as she made her journey from Blue Nile empty-handed.

Disabled due to a case of tetanus that took her left arm four years ago, Taiba is among the most vulnerable people seeking refuge in Maban County. While she no longer lives in fear, she says that she still doesn't have enough to eat.

Eight months before this photograph was taken, Taiba fled from her village of Lahmar in Sudan's Blue Nile State. Leaving with nothing but the ragged clothing she was wearing, she, her mother, and her five brothers embarked on a two-month journey to South Sudan. She regularly went days at a time without eating, wore no shoes, and had not even a cup or a plastic bottle to carry water. She stayed alive by scavenging for fruits in the forest, and by begging for food and water from other refugees and in villages she passed through along the way. During the journey she suffered from diarrhea, and a skin infection which made walking painful.

Brian Sokol is an award-winning photographer dedicated to documenting human rights issues and humanitarian crises in conflict-affected societies. To view more of his work, check out his website at www.briansokol.com.

And to learn more, check out UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, at http://tracks.unhcr.org/.

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