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Southern Sudanese Vote in London

A Southern Sudanese woman smiles as she has her identification documents checked by an official before casting her vote for the Southern Sudan Referendum in a special polling station set up in central London, 09 Jan 2011.

Europe’s Southern Sudanese Diaspora has headed to London to vote in Sudan’s referendum on independence.

In the heart of central London southern Sudanese from around Europe have come to vote in the country’s referendum. The vote will decide if Sudan is to split in two, creating a new country for Africa.

Rita , a southern Sudanese who has also been an observer here at the center in London, says it’s important for the south Sudanese diaspora to have its say.

“It’s very important for us because most of us are coming from asylum seeker backgrounds or refugees," said Paulino. "Since the war finished we need to go back home and where we want to rebuild our country and make our contribution.”

London is the only voting center for the whole of Europe. Yet just over 650 people registered to vote - that’s out of an estimated 10,000 in Europe. That’s in part because people were advised not to register unless they were sure they would turn up: 60 percent of registered voters had to cast their vote for the ballot to be recognized.

In London, more than 60 percent flooded the voting center on the first day.

Paulino says there’s another reason why so few registered.

“Most of those in Europe, some of them are staying there," said Paulino. "They are illegal there so they can’t come through the borders within Europe easily so that’s why they couldn’t make it to come - that’s why most of them didn’t turn up.”

But despite the low registration in Europe, southern Sudanese living in countries around the continent have come to London in order to vote. Sarah Nyachan Bayak Tutlam is from Holland and came with her father and sister.

“I think this is a historical moment for all southern Sudanese, wherever they are or may be,” said Tutlam.

This week’s referendum on whether the oil-rich south should gain independence from the government based in the north was central to the peace deal made in 2005. That peace agreement ended a civil war that lasted two decades and left an estimated 2 million people dead.

Southern Sudanese are widely expected to vote for independence.

Dutch voter Tutlam says for her the day is particularly significant.

“I came to London to be able to vote for the referendum for the southern Sudanese because I was born in the war so I have been a refugee all my life," she said. "This is what I was dreaming for, that south Sudanese would get this day and I’m glad that I am a part of it and that I can vote.”

London isn’t the only international voting center that’s been set up. Voting is also taking place in Australia, Canada, Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, and the United States - the eight countries thought to have the most south Sudanese living outside the country.

Around 64,000 southern Sudanese have registered - that’s out of several hundred thousand who are thought to be living abroad.