The International Organization for Migration reports there has been a last-minute reprieve for thousands of South Sudanese refugees threatened with imminent expulsion from Sudan. IOM says the refugees will not be forced to leave by Saturday, following an agreement with the government of Sudan to airlift them home.
The Sudan government has agreed to allow the International Organization for Migration to airlift thousands of South Sudanese from the capital Khartoum to Juba, the South Sudan capital.
The refugees are stranded at Kosti way station, 200 kilometers south of Khartoum. Many have been in Kosti for months.
In Geneva, IOM spokesman Jumbe Omari Jumbe says now that the government in Khartoum has agreed to facilitate an IOM airlift, the agency soon will start moving as many as 15,000 refugees by bus to the Sudanese capital.
“We are actually developing an operational plan," said Jumbe. "There are buses to be contracted and, of course, planes to be chartered. Luckily, we have done the airlifting before. The company, which is doing this, is still on standby. So, that will not take a long time. But, I cannot give you an exact time when exactly we will be doing this. We will be airlifting them to Juba. I think it is a matter of a few weeks from now.”
Jumbe says the staff is no longer under pressure to move the thousands of refugees out of Kosti by Saturday, as demanded by the governor of Sudan’s White Nile State. Jumbe says the local authorities are giving the agency the time it needs to organize the repatriation operation.
The state news agency SUNA quoted the state governor as saying the presence of the refugees was a security and environmental risk.
Border clashes between Sudan and South Sudan have raised fears the countries could slip into all out war. This week, Sudan declared a state of emergency along the border, while the South accused Sudanese troops and militia of launching new attacks in Unity State.
Jumbe says Sudan’s government has agreed to provide emergency travel documentation and make arrangements for moving excess baggage to help the repatriation process.
“Most of these people -they are going to start their lives and they have taken everything with them-beds, chairs, a goat here, you know, a cat there," he said. "We will be taking only 20 kilos for each passenger as it is allowed normally on the flight. So, the rest of the luggage will remain in Kosti for the government of Southern Sudan to deal with.”
Jumbe says the IOM will transport refugees who do not intend to stay in Juba to their homes. He says the IOM will give them a few essential supplies to get them started in their new lives and the World Food Program will provide them with food for three months.
Later, he says, the IOM will seek funding for a more extensive aid program for the South Sudanese returnees.