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Sudan Referendum Worries Southerners in North Sudan

Feb. 8, 2010. Senwei Village, Terekeka Region, South Sudan. Guinea worm Eradication Program Village Volunteer Puru tends to her husband, Garbino's Guinea worm leg wound, at their home.

Next January, southern Sudanese voters decide between remaining part of the country or establishing their own state. However, observers agree that the fate of thousands of southerners living in the north has been given adequate attention.

Jennifer Smith is a researcher with the Refugees International based in Washington DC. She just returned from a trip in the Sudan where she visited numerous IDP camps to assess the situation of southerners living in the north.

Smith says that during the long years of war, thousands of southern Sudanese settled in the north. Many continue to leave in internally displaced camps. Estimates show that the displaced community of southerners in the north range from 1.5-2 million people. However , it is unclear what will happen to them after the referendum; if the south decides to secede. “There was a lot of fear and concern among the people, we spoke to in the displaced community in Khartoum state,” Smith says. The rights and protections of minority communities are not clearly spelled out in the CPA which set the path to the referendum.

Smith says that her visit was meant to raise the profile of an issue that seems to be overshadowed by other discussions like oil wealth sharing, border demarcation etc. “It is a very politically sensitive issue to discuss. What we wanted to do was to get people talking about it, get it more attention from different government actors and the international community, to make sure that this features as a key consideration in discussions between the parties,” she says.

She also says that not all the southerners in the north will be displaced “There are some who are there by choice, who have integrated, but then there are some who are still displaced and are still in the IDP settlement areas”.