GENEVA, Switzerland, March 5, 2013/African Press Organization (APO)/ — IOM, UNOCHA, UNHCR and UK government representatives have visited two open areas in the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, where an estimated 40,000 South Sudanese are living in makeshift shelters, waiting to eventually return to South Sudan.
The sites are two of some 40 open areas occupied by South Sudanese in Khartoum and the mission found thousands of residents living in precarious conditions with limited food, water, healthcare and sanitation.
Shanties made of plastic sheeting, wood and scavenged materials provide them with little protection from the elements, particularly during the rainy season. With no sanitation facilities, defecation in the open is common, which poses huge health risks especially when flooding occurs.
Many residents complained of harassment from host communities, authorities and land owners who frequently threaten to evict them. Few had jobs and as a result many women were risking arrest by generating income from brewing and selling alcohol – a crime in Sudan.
Thousands of South Sudanese originally moved out to the open areas in late 2010 to take advantage of planned return movements organized by the two governments. However, the suspension of those movements left many stranded in the open, waiting for transportation.
Over the past two years, others have moved out to the open areas either to be prioritized for any future return movement or because they lost their jobs following South Sudan’s independence and can no longer afford to pay rent.
In November last year, 2012, IOM in close coordination with UNHCR airlifted 1,370 extremely vulnerable South Sudanese from Khartoum to Aweil in South Sudan’s Northern Bahr El Ghazal State.
As well as those stranded in Khartoum, another estimated 3,500 South Sudanese returnees remain stranded at Kosti railway station in the border state of White Nile. Most have been there for over a year, living in extreme hardship, with little or no access to basic services.
Thirty-two of the group, including nine children, have died in the past eight months, mostly due to malaria and diarrhea. Representatives of those stranded at Kosti say that some 60% of the returnees are currently sick and lack funds to buy drugs.
The governments of Sudan and South Sudan estimate there are about 230,000 South Sudanese remaining in Sudan, many of whom have expressed a desire to return.
In the run-up to the referendum on South Sudan’s independence in 2010, some 715,000 South Sudanese returned from Sudan to South Sudan, some 42,000 with IOM support.
But the closure of river, rail and most road corridors between the two countries as a result of conflict in border areas in 2011, and the end of an agreed transition period in April 2012, means that routes for South Sudanese to return are now very limited.
One of the few return routes that remained open throughout 2012 is the border town of Renk, in South Sudan’s Upper Nile State. Renk currently hosts an estimated 20,000 stranded returnees.
IOM is helping stranded returnees at four transit sites in Renk, where it monitors new arrivals and departures. It is providing healthcare; water, hygiene and sanitation (WASH); basic non-food relief items (NFIs) and onward transport to the returnees’ final destinations.
In 2012, over 10,000 returnees left Renk with IOM-organized transport, mostly by barge, as the rainy season makes all roads south of Renk inaccessible for much of the year. The area remains insecure, with frequent clashes in border areas.
In 2012, IOM helped a total of 30,000 vulnerable and stranded South Sudanese inside South Sudan and from the Republic of Sudan, by providing road, rail and air transportation. But it lacks money to extend these services through 2013 and additional resources are needed. IOM plans to assist some 5,000 returnees from Renk to their intended final destinations in early 2013.
The Organization has appealed for US$ 25 million to provide ongoing humanitarian support to returnees in Sudan and South Sudan.