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Milaya - Patterns of Home

'One day the soldiers came to my home and tortured me in front of my kids. They were asking for my husband who they claimed was a rebel'. Esther Minella recalls. Within three days of this event, her husband had been killed and she was preparing to walk south and cross the border to Uganda with her children. Now sitting under a small tree on her dry plot she proudly shows off her Milaya, or traditional hand-embroidered sheet. The Malaya is one of the few things she managed to bring from home.

Esther is one of an estimated 270,000 refugees living in the Bidibidi refugee settlement in Uganda. In August 2017 the millionth refugee from South Sudan entered Uganda, a country known for its progressive refugee policies. Upon arrival, people are given a plot of land and the right to work. They are also provided with food every month. Due to an unexpectedly high number of refugees arriving from war-torn South Sudan, however, shortages of food and medicines have started to occur.

As most of the refugees are women and children, bedsheets are frequently one of the few possessions they are able to take with them. Many violent raids occurs at night time and bedsheets are often the closest thing to hand for families to wrap their most important possessions and depart in a hurry, fearing for their lives. Though many refugees are robbed by either rebels or government soldiers, bedsheets tend to be an item they are able to salvage and bring with them.

Milayas, decorated with colourful embroidered patterns, have been hand-made in South Sudan for generations and the tradition continues in what has become their temporary home while they wait for the seemingly endless war in their country to subside.
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