GEVEVA, Switzerland - The International Organization for Migration says the voluntary repatriation of up to 15,000 South Sudanese stranded in Kosti, White Nile State, is expected to get under way Sunday. IOM is urgently appealing for $3 million to enable it to airlift the refugees from the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, to Juba, the capital of South Sudan.
Sunday, the International Organization for Migration is planning to start moving people by bus to Khartoum from Kosti, which is 200 kilometers south of the Sudanese capital. From there, it hopes to fly the first 900 refugees to Juba, the capital of South Sudan.
Two weeks ago, the governor of the White Nile State gave the 12 to 15,000 South Sudanese and international agencies in Kosti a deadline of one week to leave the area. The governor justified his order by claiming the refugees were a security and environmental risk.
Following international pressure, the Sudanese government extended the deadline and agreed to facilitate IOM's airlift plan. IOM spokesman Jumbe Omari Jumbe says this decision comes as a big relief to the refugees and to the international agencies.
"It is not what we would hope for, would have wanted." said Jumbe. "Of course, basically, the best way was to, still to use the barges back to South Sudan because that is cheaper and it ensures that everybody takes their things with them. And also the other utility for that is that some of these passengers actually do not go all the way to Juba. They want to stop-many, many stops along the White Nile River. So, the barges would have been the best option."
Clashes along the border between Sudan and South Sudan have raised tensions and brought the countries close to war. Jumbe says the government in Khartoum suspended the use of the river barges because it thought South Sudan might use them for military purposes.
IOM reports it will need to hire some 25 buses and charter up to 100 flights to move the entire Kosti group. It also will have to pay for medical screening and supplies, staff and escorts, food and overnight lodging for the returnees. The entire voluntary repatriation operation is expected to take about one month to complete.
The Geneva-based agency says the two governments are providing travel documents for the returnees and landing clearances for the flights.
The refugees have been living in Sudan for a very long time and have accumulated massive amounts of goods, including, in some cases, farm and domestic animals. The government of South Sudan will transport this excess luggage by truck.
Jumbe says the operation is extremely complex and expensive. He says IOM has $2.5 million to carry out the operation, but urgently needs another $3 million. He warns the consequences will be severe, if donors do not come up with the money .
"The concern is that the whole thing would be disrupted, making people really suffer more than what they have suffered already." said Jumbe. "And, then there is the danger that even the agreement that we have now in hand with the government may be jeopardized because the government told us we have to move these people as soon as humanly possible."
Jumbe says IOM will transport people from Juba close to points near their home villages. He says IOM will give the South Sudanese basic non-food items and medical care, the World Food Program will distribute a three-month supply of food, and other agencies will provide additional essential services.
He says the United Nations is developing a full integration program to help these vulnerable people start a new life in a place that is foreign to many of them.