The International Organization for Migration says it is helping some 3,500 vulnerable people from Sudan's Dinka tribe return to the homes they fled in Bor, southern Sudan 14 years ago. The agency says the Dinkas are part of a larger group of 12,000 who are spontaneously making their way home on foot.
The International Organization for Migration says the Dinkas decided to return home on their own because they do not want to wait for United Nations organized repatriations to get under way. IOM Spokeswoman Jemini Pandya says the Dinkas began preparing for this journey months before a peace agreement ending Sudan's 21-year civil war was signed in January.
"This particular group have been displaced for more than 14 years," she said. "So, it is understandable that they just want to go back home and see their families again and just start living their lives again."
Up to six million people from southern Sudan have been displaced by the war within the country. The Dinkas, who have been living in Maridi in the province of Western Equatoria, are traveling northwards to Bor, which is about 160 kilometers north of Juba, the capital of southern Sudan.
Ms. Pandya says most of the 12,000 Dinkas are making their way home on foot along with 300,000 to 500,000 cattle. She says they and their cattle are moving in 34 cattle camps through treacherous terrain.
"The route that those who are walking on foot with the cattle are taking is actually a very dangerous route. They are crossing the bridge at the White Nile in Juba and then they are heading northwards on the East bank of the river. All that area is heavily mined and where the Lord's Resistance Army rebel group from Uganda is operating. So, it is a particularly dangerous route for them to take," noted Ms. Pandya.
Ms. Pandya says IOM is assisting some 3,500 vulnerable people to make the journey. They include elderly, disabled, expectant mothers and women with young children. She says IOM is transporting them by truck from areas west of Juba to a way station run by the UN Refugee Agency.
She says more than 1,000 people already have arrived. And, others are joining them daily. She says the organization will take people to Bor on ferries and barges up the White Nile.
"It is not that everybody stops at the way station. It is only meant to be a place for those who are unable to make the journey on foot…. Now the reason why there are 1,300 waiting there is because the operation to take them up the river can not actually begin until the resources and the infrastructure are actually in place at their hometown in Bor to accept them," she added.
Ms. Pandya says private and international organizations are putting basic services in place in Bor. She says the first river movement for the vulnerable people is expected to begin shortly. In the meantime, she says the World Food Program and UNICEF are providing people at the way station with food, medicines and medical care.