News / Africa

South Sudan Returnees Stuck in Limbo, Face Tough Choice

TEXT SIZE - +
Hannah McNeish
— About two million people have returned to South Sudan since a 2005 peace agreement ended decades of civil war that is estimated to have killed around the same number. But since South Sudan became a nation 18 months ago, tens of thousands of people who have wanted to enter South Sudan from the north are trapped in border towns, and face the tough choice of leaving behind their possessions as U.N. agencies struggle to get them home.

Surrounded by piles of furniture and blackboards in a makeshift home on the banks of the Nile, Mary Venerato Laki does her best to try to teach the children at a camp in the port town of Renk.

Some people have waited for up to two years for the government and aid agencies in South Sudan to take them downstream to new homes. Laki is among those waiting.  “They said there will be steamers [ships] coming to collect us. They used to tell us like that. That we will be going, we be going.  But until now we are waiting," she said.

Some 20,000 people are stuck here with no schools and a lack of health services and food.  Many are alone and have to guard the family’s worldly possessions, which are considered a safer investment than money.

“Our money in the north, they don’t use [it] in the south. Many of the people, the little money they have, they bought things, so that if they bring money, it will be taken on the way. This is why the boat has to come to take the things," said Laki.

But after a territorial dispute that almost brought Sudan and South Sudan to war again, and caused the north to close the border, the new nation halted oil production, cutting off its economic lifeline.

Shelving its $16 million commitment to bring people back, local authorities in Upper Nile state caused further delays by trying to impose a tax on the aid agency barges taking people south.

The U.N.-funded International Organization for Migration, or IOM, has helped transport just 40,000 people out of some 700,000 returnees since November 2010.

But the U.N. humanitarian coordinator for South Sudan, Toby Lanzer, says the IOM cannot afford to transport what it estimates is 30 cubic feet of luggage per person.

“We’re talking about a multimillion-dollar operation. On average it’s about $1,000 per person, and we’ve got about 20,00 people here, so you do the math. There simply isn’t the money to move all of these people and their luggage," he said.

Lanzer says the time has come to make tough choices. “If you do want to move home, one thing is clear: it’s going to be really hard for the government or the U.N. to help move a few people with 30 cubic meters of luggage. I think a lot of the luggage is going to need to be sold off or donated and that will generate some income which will help people start afresh," he said.

The chairperson of the state-run Relief and Rehabilitation Commission, Peter Lam Both, says an estimated quarter-million people still in Sudan might want to come south.

With 40,000 already living in makeshift camps and poor conditions in Khartoum, Renk’s resources could soon be stretched even further.  Both says tough choices on resettlement and repossession are looming.

“We’ve said to them, 'You need to sell some of these luggage because some of them are not really in good shape. Once you pack up things for two years and you put them in one place you will never expect them to remain in good condition the way you put them before.' We have said, 'You need to sell them so when you get to your final destination you will be able to purchase for yourself some new materials wherever you are going," he said.

But for widow Mary Venerato Laki, whose siblings and parents all died, selling the family’s fortune - meant to provide for four orphaned nieces who are already in Juba - is a sacrifice she cannot face.

You May Like

Multimedia Anti-Keystone XL Protests Continue

Demonstrators are worried about pipeline's effect on climate change, their traditional way of life, health and safety More

Thailand's Political Power Struggle Continues

Court gave Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra until May 2 to prepare her defense over abuse of power charges but uncertainty remains over election timing More

Malaysia Plane Search Tests Limits of Ocean Mapping Technology

Expert tells VOA existing equipment’s maximum operating depth is around 6 kilometers as operation continues on ocean bed for any trace of MH370 More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Messagei
X
Penelope Poulou
April 22, 2014 5:53 PM
Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Message

Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pro-Russian Separatists Plan 'Federalization Referendum' in Eastern Ukraine

Pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine say they plan to move forward next month with a referendum vote for greater autonomy, despite the Geneva agreement reached with Russia, the U.S. and Ukraine to end the political conflict. VOA's Brian Padden reports from the city of Donetsk in Eastern Ukraine.
Video

Video Pope Francis Hopes Dual Canonizations Will Reconcile Church

On April 27, two popes - John the XXIII and John Paul II - will be made saints in a ceremony at St. Peter’s Square. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky says the dual canonization is part of the current pope’s program to reconcile liberals and conservatives in the Roman Catholic Church.
Video

Video In Capturing Nature's Majesty, Film Makes Case for Its Survival

French filmmaker Luc Jacquet won worldwide acclaim for his 2005 Academy Award-winning documentary "March of the Penguins". Now Jacquet is back with a new film that takes movie-goers deep into the heart of a tropical rainforest - not only to celebrate its grandeur, but to make the case for its survival. VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Boston Marathon Bittersweet for Many Runners

Monday's running of the Boston Marathon was bittersweet for many of the 36,000 participants as they finished the run that was interrupted by a double bombing last year. Many gathered along the route paid respect to the four people killed as a result of two bombings near the finish line. VOA's Carolyn Presutti returned to Boston this year to follow two runners, forever changed because of the crimes.
Video

Video International Students Learn Film Production in World's Movie Capital

Hollywood - which is part of Los Angeles - is the movie capital of the world, and many aspiring filmmakers go there in hopes of breaking into the movie business. Mike O'Sullivan reports that regional universities are also a magnet for students who hope to become producers or directors.
Video

Video Pacific Rim Trade Deal Proves Elusive

With the U.S.-led war in Iraq ended and American military involvement in Afghanistan winding down, President Barack Obama has sought to pivot the country's foreign policy focus towards Asia. One aspect of that pivot is the negotiation of a free-trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations. But as Obama leaves this week on a trip to four Asian countries he has found it very difficult to complete the trade pact. VOA's Ken Bredemeier has more from Washington.
Video

Video Autistic Adults Face Housing, Job Challenges

Many parents of children with disabilities fear for the future of their adult child. It can be difficult to find services to help adults with disabilities - physical, mental or emotional - find work or live on their own. The mother of an autistic boy set up a foundation to advocate for the estimated 1.2 million American adults with autism, a developmental disorder that causes communication difficulties and often social difficulties. VOA's Faiza Elmasry reports.
AppleAndroid