More South Sudanese who had been stranded in Sudan have returned home in a Nile river barge convoy. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) is overseeing the ongoing operation, which began in March.
“Just last week, we were able to bring home around 1,400, who arrived in Juba. They were part of a large convoy that left from Kosti in White Nile State, which is in Sudan,” said Claire Bolt, manager of IOM’s returns project, which is funded by the Common Humanitarian Fund. Bolt is based in Khartoum.
In all, 1,800 had boarded the barges in Kosti, but about 400 disembarked at ports along the way.
“So far this year, IOM has supported the return of 14,000 people altogether from Kosti in White Nile to South Sudan,” she said. About 7,000 were relocated during March and April and a similar number between July and September.
Many still waiting
Bolt said, “We estimate there are around 500,000 to 800,000 southerners remaining in Sudan. We know that there are around 10,000 people still waiting in Kosti at the weigh station there. And there are around 16,000 waiting in Khartoum in some open areas… and then there are many other hundreds of thousands of people around various locations in Sudan, who may or may not wish to return home,” she said.
The IOM said, “Time is running out” for the South Sudanese in the north. Following the South’s independence July 9, the Khartoum government agreed to an interim period for the return of the South Sudanese. It was scheduled to last until March 2012.
“We have been hearing from various sources that this interim period may actually be decreased and may end at the end of this year. So we’re worried that this won’t get enough time to move all of the people who still want to go back to South Sudan,” said Bolt.
Western overland route
A new agreement was signed on October 5 between IOM and Sudanese authorities to allow the transport of South Sudanese by rail. Trains would carry returnees from Khartoum to western South Sudan, specifically Western Bahr el-Ghazal and Northern Bahr el-Ghazal states.
“Because there is conflict going on the border areas between Sudan and South Sudan, we cannot travel by road to reach their home towns and home villages,” she said.
The rail operation could begin in about a week and transport about 12,000 returnees by the end of the year.