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IOM: Impossible to Meet April Deadline for Repatriating South Sudanese

A South Sudanese family waits inside a train in Khartoum to be transported to Wau in South Sudan, March 1, 2012.
A South Sudanese family waits inside a train in Khartoum to be transported to Wau in South Sudan, March 1, 2012.
Lisa Schlein

The International Organization for Migration says it is not able to meet an April deadline to repatriate South Sudanese refugees in the Sudanese capital, Khartoum. 

The International Organization for Migration is working to repatriate South Sudanese from the Sudanese capital Khartoum before an April 8 deadline for them to leave. But, IOM spokesman Jean-Philippe Chauzy tells VOA organizing the safe, dignified, voluntary return of hundreds of thousands of people by then is impossible.

“It is a logistical nightmare," he said. "It is totally impossible to organize such large returns in such a short period of time.  We are, therefore, advocating with other agencies for the 8th of April deadline to be extended to allow South Sudanese who want to leave to do so safely and in dignity. Or to open up some corridors between the North and the South, which would allow for spontaneous and organized returns within an extended deadline.”

The governments of Sudan and the newly independent Republic of South Sudan signed a Memorandum of Understanding on February 12. Under terms of the agreement, some one-half million Southern Sudanese still in Khartoum have until April 8 to choose between going home or remaining as refugees in the north.

All ethnic southerners lost their jobs in the north before South Sudan gained its independence in July. So, it is expected that most will opt to leave. However, IOM notes those who wish to remain in Sudan need documents from South Sudan to apply for residence in the north. And, it says this is a very difficult and lengthy procedure.

The IOM already has helped move more than 23,000 people to South Sudan, mainly by barge. But, Sudan stopped the use of barges last month, stranding thousands of southerners who have been living in Kosti, a town by the Nile about 350 kilometers south of Khartoum.

IOM now is in the process of moving 1,400 refugees by train. This first group of South Sudanese returnees are traveling in a 60-carriage train.  It is expected to arrive in Aweil and Wau in the Republic of South Sudan on March 10.  

Spokesman Chauzy says on the way, the train will pick up 500 South Sudanese from Kosti railway station, where they have been living outside for six months.  He describes the rail journey as extremely challenging.

“One of the challenges that we are facing is that the returnees are taking with them huge amounts of personal luggage," he said. "The reason for that is that some of them were born in Sudan, in the Republic of Sudan, and they are literally going back with, in some cases, building materials. They are going back with household items, personal effects.”  

During March, Chauzy says IOM will airlift extremely vulnerable individuals to Wau, Aweil and Juba. These include elderly and disabled people, pregnant women and people with serious medical conditions, who are not fit to travel on the trains.

However, he says the train and air returns will hardly make a dent in the number of people who must return to the South by April 8. For that to happen, he says it is absolutely critical that Sudan extend the deadline.

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