The International Organization for Migration is urging authorities in Sudan’s White Nile State to extend a Saturday deadline for repatriating 12,000 to 15,000 South Sudanese nationals. IOM says it is not possible to transport such a large number of people from Kosti to their homes in South Sudan by May 5.
The agency says it is concerned by the announcement of the governor of Sudan’s White Nile state that thousands of South Sudanese waiting for transport home must leave in less than a week.
IOM spokesman Jean-Philippe Chauzy says many of the South Sudanese are at the Kosti way station, 200 kilometers south of the Sudanese capital, Khartoum.
“Should the authorities in the White Nile state decide to push people across the border into South Sudan, we are concerned that this would be extremely detrimental to very vulnerable groups of people who have been waiting for weeks and months in Kosti, who are heavily dependent on the humanitarian assistance that we and other agencies are providing.… And, the fact that we are now given a 5th of May deadline raises alarm bells in as much as we simply cannot organize all the humanitarian returns of those South Sudanese from Kosti,” Chauzy said.
Another factor complicating the return is the fighting between Sudan and South Sudan along their border, which has raised fears the countries will slip into all-out war. Sudan declared a state of emergency along the border this week, while the south on Tuesday accused Sudanese troops and militia of launching new attacks in Unity state.
Chauzy says the governor of White Nile State justifies his decision to rid Kosti of its displaced on security grounds. The IOM spokesman says the clashes clearly have raised tensions. But, he says the thousands of people in Kosti are civilians, who pose no security threat.
The spokesman says they are people desperate to get home, but who have no means to pay for their own transport. He says they are people who cannot fend for themselves. They are dependent upon the international community for food, water, health care and other essential services.
Chauzy says IOM’s repatriation operation faces enormous logistical challenges.
“Kosti is on the Nile. Returns are taking place on the Nile, have taken place on the Nile using barges. At the moment, we have great difficulties, obviously, getting those barges, getting the fuel to operate the barges and more fundamentally, we have not yet received a firm green light from the authorities in Khartoum to resume return operations along the Nile from Kosti towards Malakal and Juba, which are both in South Sudan,” Chauzy said.
Chauzy says IOM is looking at alternative solutions to return the South Sudanese. He says one possibility is to bring the most vulnerable people back to Khartoum and, if it can get the funding, fly them to South Sudan.
He says another alternative is to take the displaced to Renk, another town along the White Nile in South Sudan. However, he says that solution is far from ideal because there are more than 20,000 other South Sudanese who already have returned there. He says adding 15,000 more people to that population would create an unsustainable situation.