Sudan: Families from South Sudan stranded in Khartoum

6 March, 2013
Man and children at the Shegara departure point in Khartoum, awaiting transport to South Sudan.
Man and children at the Shegara departure point in Khartoum, awaiting transport to South Sudan.

Thousands of South Sudanese families are stranded in Sudan’s capital Khartoum waiting for an opportunity to return home, but insecurity and lack of resources have been hampering efforts by humanitarian agencies to transport them safely back to their places of origin.

"Since the independence of South Sudan in 2011, scores of people have returned from Sudan but many are still waiting, stranded at numerous departure points," said OCHA’s Head of Office in Sudan, Mark Cutts. "The humanitarian community needs more support to step up its efforts to help these people return home."

Since the Comprehensive Peace Agreement was signed by Sudan and South Sudan in 2005, some 2 million people have returned to South Sudan, which became an independent country in July 2011. Over the last few years, humanitarian organizations such as the International Organization for Migration (IOM) have helped many families return home as well as provided the support that they needed to rebuild their lives in the world’s youngest country. In recent years, however, aid agencies’ capacities have been stretched by the emergence of new crises in the two countries, including in South Sudan’s Jonglei State and Sudan’s South Kordofan and Blue Nile States where millions of people have been forced from their homes by conflict.  

Today, some 40,000 people are stranded at 40 different departure points across Khartoum, waiting for a truck, bus or a barge to take them south. “These points have basically become squatter camps and the people are living in squalor,” added Mr. Cutts.

During a recent visit by OCHA staff to two departure points in Khartoum, many people said they had sold most of their possessions in order to survive. They explained that the Government of South Sudan had encouraged them to go to the departure points, where they could be transported back. However, lack of funding for transportation and the closure of roads to South Sudan because of insecurity are hampering efforts to help these families return home. The outlook is bleak as roads are frequently impassable due to flooding during the rainy season from June to September, but many families continue to wait, living in poverty with very few resources.

“We have no schooling for our children, our husbands are not allowed to work and we are suffering a lot from a lack of help,” said Katarina who lives at the Soba-Kongor departure point in Khartoum. “What we need more than anything else is some help to go back home.”

“Ultimately the Governments of South Sudan and Sudan are responsible for the welfare and transportation of those stranded,” said the head of IOM in Sudan, Malke Dharmaratne. “We will assist wherever and whenever we can, but organized movements by road, rail and air need to stem from concerted government efforts.”

IOM is working with the Inland African Church to help transport small groups of people in the coming weeks, but the Governments of Sudan and South Sudan need to organize and fund larger scale returns. IOM stressed that this was vital to ensure the safety of the returnees.

Last April, a group of people on their way back to South Sudan were caught in cross-fire when conflict erupted in the Heglig area, along the border between the two countries. OCHA and humanitarian partners have been urging the Governments to help establish and respect safe transportation corridors.  

In the meantime, humanitarian organizations are concerned about the families at the departure points.

“While we appreciate the efforts of the Government of Sudan, international organizations remain extremely concerned at the humanitarian conditions of those living at the departure points,” said the UN Refugee Agency’s Deputy Representative in Sudan, Francois Reybet-Degat, outlining the urgency of the situation and the need for a solution.

“Without the resumption of organized return movements to South Sudan, the lack of prospects for the majority of those wanting to return back home in safety and dignity is very troubling.”

More>>  OCHA Sudan  -  OCHA South Sudan

Reporting by OCHA Sudan

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