GENEVA — The International Organization for Migration (IOM) reports the last of eight barges transporting more than 2,700 South Sudanese returnees and their luggage will dock at Juba Port on Friday after a three-week journey from Renk in Upper Nile States. Unfortunately, it says it will not be able to transport thousands of other South Sudanese home because it has run out of money.
The convoy of three passenger and five luggage barges left Renk in Upper Nile State on August 10. The heavy rains falling in South Sudan have made road transport impossible. So sailing down the Nile River has become the only option available for the thousands of people who have been stranded for months in Renk to return home.
Spokesman for the International Organization for Migration, Jumbe Omari Jumbe, describes the journey as arduous. He says the 2,700 returnees have disembarked at ports in Upper Nile, Jonglei, and Lakes as the convoy made its way to the capital Juba.
Jumbe says medical staff screened the returnees before they began the journey to make sure they were fit to travel and to try to prevent the spread of communicable diseases. He says children under the age of five also were vaccinated.
He says most of the returnees survived the long journey in good condition, but some did not.
“Sadly, there are many, many returnees who were found with cases of malaria and upon reaching Juba some 24 returnees were hospitalized on arrival in Bor and 17 in Juba. This is a typical case because most of these returnees suffer from malnutrition, so their immunity is low and they are susceptible to diseases and attacks of malaria, diarrhea and acute respiratory infections,” Jumbe said.
South Sudan gained its independence from the north more than one year ago. Shortly after that, Sudan closed it borders with the South because of escalating military hostilities arising from disputes over territory and oil resources.
Thousands of South Sudanese who had been living in the Sudanese capital Khartoum decided to return home. They could only enter South Sudan through the Renk crossing. And, that is where thousands have remained, unable to continue their journey home because of a lack of money
The International Organization for Migration runs three transit camp primary health clinics in Renk. Spokesman Jumbe says health and living conditions in the town are deteriorating. He says thousands of stranded returnees are becoming increasingly desperate to leave and go home.
Unfortunately, he says, the outlook is not promising.
“The final barge will dock today in Juba and if we do not receive new funding, we will have to suspend our operations. As I said there are still over 15,000 people at Renk waiting for transport to various parts in the Republic of South Sudan,” Jumbe said.
Early this year, IOM appealed for nearly $46 million. It received a bit more than $5 million. Now that money is gone and so is the possibility of helping thousands of people go home after many years in exile.
However, Jumbe says IOM will organize road transportation for the returnees who arrived Friday from Juba to their final destinations in the Greater Bahr el Ghazal region. Since South Sudan became independent in July 2011, the agency has transported more than 63,000 vulnerable returnees home.