News / Africa

South Sudan Returnees Stuck in Limbo, Face Tough Choice

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

At Khmer Rouge Court, Long-Awaited Verdict Approaches

First phase of trial, which is coming to an end, has focused on forced exodus of Phnom Penh in 1975 - and now many are hopeful justice will be served More

Video When Fighting Eases, Gazans Line Up at Bakeries

When there is a lull in the conflict, residents who have been hunkered down in their apartments rush out to stock up on food and other necessities More

Video Information War Rages Alongside Real One in Ukraine

Downing of Malaysian airliner, allegations of cross-border shelling move information war in war-torn country to a new level More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Information War Rages Alongside Real One in Ukrainei
X
Al Pessin
July 31, 2014 8:13 PM
The downing of the Malaysian airliner two weeks ago, and allegations that Russians are shelling Ukrainian troops across the border, have moved the information war swirling around the Ukrainian conflict to a new level. VOA's Al Pessin reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video Information War Rages Alongside Real One in Ukraine

The downing of the Malaysian airliner two weeks ago, and allegations that Russians are shelling Ukrainian troops across the border, have moved the information war swirling around the Ukrainian conflict to a new level. VOA's Al Pessin reports from Kyiv.
Video

Video When Fighting Eases, Gazans Line Up at Bakeries

When there is a lull in the conflict in Gaza, residents who have been hunkered down in their apartments rush out to stock up on food and other necessities. Probably the most important destination is the local bakery. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Gaza City.
Video

Video US-Funded Program Offers Honduran Children Alternative to Illegal Immigration

President Obama and Central American leaders recently agreed to come up with a plan to address poverty and crime in the region that is fueling the surge of young migrants trying to illegally enter the United States. VOA’s Brian Padden looks at one such program in Honduras - funded in part by the United States - which gives street kids not only food and safety but a chance for a better life without, crossing the border.
Video

Video 'Fab Lab' Igniting Revolution in Kenya

The University of Nairobi’s Science and Technology Park is banking on 3-D prototyping to spark a manufacturing revolution in the country. Lenny Ruvaga has more for from Nairobi's so-called “FabLab” for VOA.
Video

Video Gazans in Shelled School Sought Shelter

Israel's air and ground assault against Hamas-led fighters in Gaza has forced many Palestinians to flee their homes, seeking safety. But safe places are hard to find, as VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jabaliya.
Video

Video Rapid Spread of Ebola in West Africa Prompts Global Alert

Across West Africa, health officials are struggling to keep up with what the World Health Organization describes as the worst ebola outbreak on record. The virus has killed hundreds of people this year. U.S. President Barack Obama and other world leaders are watching the developments closely as they weigh what actions, if any, are needed to help contain the disease.
Video

Video Michelle Obama: Young Africans Need to Embrace Women's Rights

U.S. first lady Michelle Obama urged some of Africa's best and brightest to advocate for women's rights in their home countries. As VOA's Pam Dockins explains, Obama spoke to some 500 participants of the Young African Leaders Initiative, a six-week U.S.-based training and development program.
Video

Video Immigrant Influx on Texas Border Heats Up Political Debate

Immigrants from Central America continue to cross the U.S.-Mexico border in south Texas, seeking asylum in the United States, as officials grapple with ways to deal with the problem and provide shelter for thousands of minors among the illegal border crossers. As VOA's Greg Flakus reports from Houston, the issue is complicated by internal U.S. politics and U.S. relations with the troubled nations that immigrants are fleeing.
Video

Video Study: Latino Students Most Segregated in California

Even though legal school segregation ended in the United States 60 years ago, one study finds segregation still occurs in the U.S. based on income and race. The University of California Los Angeles Civil Rights Project finds that students in California are more segregated by race than ever before, especially Latinos. Elizabeth Lee reports for VOA from Los Angeles.

AppleAndroid