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People Returning to South Sudan for January Referendum

Southern Sudanese from Abyei, who have resided in the north for 21 years, wait next to a bus in Khartoum, for a trip back to the Abyei oil region (File Photo)

With a little more than a month left until an independence referendum, southern Sudanese are flocking back to the south from northern Sudan. These returns are causing problems from the humanitarian community and southern government.

Between October 30 and December 5, more than 51,000 southern Sudanese have returned from northern Sudan. According to U.N. Deputy Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator Lise Grande, most of those returnees have gone to Unity State on the border with northern Sudan.

Grande says the United Nations is helping the south absorb the returns, but the government is still responsible for their well being in the south.

"The humanitarian agencies are there to help but full responsibility for this is with the governments in the north and the governments in the south," said Grande.

The United Nations has made a request for emergency aid to help the returnees. They have asked for $32 million to provide food, medical and shelter aid, water and sanitation, and education in the towns and villages where people settle.

Grande said they were also providing aid to the people stuck in Bentiu, the capital of Unity State. The people headed to three counties in Unity, Panyijar, Abienyom and Mayom, were unable to travel because of bad roads. They are all staying in schools in the state capital.

Grande said the agencies were very concerned that internally displaced persons camps could be formed if people stay in the state capitals.

"We want to avoid IDP camps and this is part of the reason why the bulk of the assistance is going into the points of final destination, not into the points of transit in the state capitals," added Grande.

The agency in the southern government overseeing the returnee process, the Southern Sudan Relief and Rehabilitation Commission, predicts that 150,000 people will return to the south by March of 2011.