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Barges Bring Jubilant Returnees to South Sudan

  • Hannah McNeish

A returnee from North Sudan unloads belonging from a ship in a port of White Nile river in Juba, South Sudan, July 2011. (file photo)

A returnee from North Sudan unloads belonging from a ship in a port of White Nile river in Juba, South Sudan, July 2011. (file photo)

More than 350,000 returnees have flocked to South Sudan since the country gained independence from the north in July. This week, 3,200 more arrived in the capital, Juba, on four barges from Sudan. These people arriving in one of the poorest countries in the world are experiencing great joy and facing many challenges.

The banks of the Nile were packed and people crowded onto the jetty at Juba Port to meet loved ones they have waited to be reunited with for months or years.

As the boats drew closer, the crowd erupted into shouts and cheers as women ululated.

People who have spent months awaiting river transport at a way-station in Kosti, Sudan - and then 12 days packed into boats with as many of their belongings that could fit - cheered and waved back. Some jumped up onto the roof.

Catching up with her children and sister after years spent in Sudan, Saloma Majok cried tears of joy at being in her new country. She left 42 years ago to seek safety and work in the Sudanese capital and escaped decades of civil war.

Her son, Daniel Simon, spent his whole life in Khartoum and returned years ago after his studies. He struggled to express his mother’s feelings at this historic homecoming reunion in the free, but still desperately poor, south.

“She’s very happy. Even in this situation. But she’s really, really proud. This is her country. And, she is my mother. That is a very joyous moment. Even me, I cannot even explain this thing. For a long time I never meet her,” said Simon.

The U.N. International Office of Migration [IOM] in South Sudan has helped more than 19,000 people return from Sudan since 98 percent of the south voted for independence in a January referendum.

Some 350,000 others have made it back by their own means and IOM says it will transport 9,000 more by river, by late December.

But Jan de Wilde, head of IOM South Sudan, said there are around a million more South Sudanese in the north, and many are waiting to see if an April 9 deadline 'to get legal or get out' is enforced.

“We do understand that there are families returning while the men are left, either in Renk, in Kosti or in Khartoum to see how things work out. And I think basically what these people are waiting for is to see what provisions are made by which they could get a legal status to remain in the north," said de Wilde.

Blocked borders and land mines laid in oil-rich northern states by suspected rebel militia groups have prevented road transportation that could allow cheap and easy mass movement.

De Wilde said that the IOM soon will start flying people from Khartoum, as a cheaper option to trains.