The International Organization for Migration says it will begin transporting thousands of South Sudanese to their villages in the Upper Nile region on Sunday. The Sudanese were stranded at a border way station for months.
The Sudanese are among some 16,000 who were returning home from Khartoum ahead of South Sudan’s independence from the north on July 9.
They got stuck at the north-south border and have been camping out near the Renk way station in Upper Nile state under difficult conditions ever since.
Bad road conditions and seasonal flooding have made it impossible for them to continue their journey home. This is because many parts of the Upper Nile region, from where the majority of returnees come, are inaccessible except by boats or barges.
International Organization for Migration spokesman Jumbe Omari Jumbe says that so far, IOM only has only been able to conduct a few small-scale returns. He says IOM did not have the big boats needed to mount a large-scale repatriation operation.
“But the good news is that this Sunday, the first group of around 2,000 returnees will leave Renk way station in Upper Nile state in a convoy of four barges, carrying both people and luggage. The barges will travel on the River Nile to Malakal to the South. The journey is expected to take one week. Now this is the first major transportation from this way station because this is the first time we got hold of big river barges, which can take up to 1,000 people," he said.
Jumbe says the barges will be stopping at Kaka and Melut to allow returnees, whose final destinations are near to those towns, to disembark.
He says all returnees have been immunized against communicable diseases, such as typhoid and measles. They also have been given information about personal hygiene to prevent the spread of infections such as diarrhea and cholera. He says three medical teams will escort the convoy. “Prior to their departure, IOM carried out the registration, verification and medical screening of the returnees to assess whether they were fit to travel. IOM and its partners have also distributed basic non-food items including mosquito nets, blankets and plastic sheeting," he said.
Jumbe says IOM is planning to transport another 2,000 Sudanese home in the coming weeks. And, as it receives more money, IOM will be able to help return other stranded people.
However, their lives at home will not be easy. Ongoing tension between Sudan and South Sudan is affecting bilateral and trade relations. Khartoum closed its border with its southern neighbor in March, cutting off trade and leading to a sharp rise in commodity prices.
Citizens of the Upper Nile are appealing to the International community to help resolve tensions between Sudan and its newly-independent southern neighbor so the movement of goods and people in the border areas can resume.