© UNHCR / A. Coseac
Bored boys at UNHCR’s way station in Torit. Having a safe place to shelter during the journey home helps reduce the risk of violence and exploitation during large-scale population movements.
In Sudan, UNHCR is gearing up activities following the referendum results announced this week. On Wednesday we met with donors in Geneva to request US$53.4 million to support southerners moving back to the South from Khartoum and other parts of northern Sudan.
Already some 200,000 southerners have returned from the North over the past three months. In Khartoum, so far some 75,000 others have registered to go back. Relief agencies anticipate that as many as 800,000 southerners will return from the North this year, which will add pressure on the already fragile humanitarian environment.
UNHCR’s role is mainly focused on ensuring monitoring of protection needs along the way, at transit points and in return areas. We are also facilitating reintegration, particularly in urban and semi-urban settings. We are also setting up way stations along major return routes where we provide water and sanitation, health services, reception and rest facilities
Many of those heading back to the South have been away for decades. Others were born and raised in the north and are going to locations that will be entirely new to them. People tell us that their main reason for moving to the South is because they have concerns about their citizenship status if they remain in the north. But many also express keenness to be part of South Sudan’s rebuilding.
Among populations who have remained in the north till now, people say they are waiting for security conditions to improve. There are concerns about traveling south through areas in which there are tensions in local communities or within the army. Last week in Malakal, one of the major return hubs, a mutiny left nine civilians dead, including one of own colleagues, John James Okwath, who was killed in crossfire. He was just 26. Although calm has returned in Malakal, the situation remains tense.
As well as facing insecurity some returnees are becoming stranded along the way due to lack of means. There are currently close to 20,000 individuals stuck in the various departure centers around Khartoum, many of which lack shelter space. People have in some instances been sleeping in the open for nearly two months. UNHCR and other humanitarian actors have been approached last week by Government of South Sudan to support with transportation from the congested departure centers.