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UN Gears Up To Help Sudanese Returning To South

Southern Sudanese women carry their luggage as they prepare to board a train in Khartoum on January 9, 2011 on their way to the south
Southern Sudanese women carry their luggage as they prepare to board a train in Khartoum on January 9, 2011 on their way to the south

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees says it is preparing to help thousands of displaced Sudanese who will be returning from the capital, Khartoum, and other parts of northern Sudan to their new country in the south. Relief agencies anticipate as many as 800,000 southerners will return from the north this year.

Some 200,000 southerners have returned from the North over the past three months. And the U.N. refugee agency reports about 75,000 others living in Khartoum are registered to go back following the referendum granting independence to the South.

UNHCR spokesman Adrian Edwards says many of the hundreds of thousands of displaced Sudanese returning home will need help to restart their lives.

"Many of those heading back to the South have been away for decades," he said. "Others were born and raised in the north and are returning to locations that are going to be entirely new to them. People tell us that their main reason for moving to the South is because they have concerns about their citizenship status. But, many also express keenness to be part of South Sudan’s rebuilding."

Northern and southern Sudan must resolve a number of issues before the south declares independence in July. One is the issue of citizenship of minority populations.

Sudan’s President, Omar Al-Bashir, says he will not allow joint citizenship after the split. So, many displaced people living in the north are taking the matter into their own hands by moving to the south.

UNHCR spokesman Edwards says many people remaining in the north are waiting for security conditions to improve before they head south.

"We are hearing about traveling south through areas in which there are tensions within local communities or within the army," he said. "Last week in Malakai, as you may recall, which is one of the major return hubs, a mutiny left nine civilians dead including one of our own colleagues, John James Okwath. He was killed in crossfire and was just 26-years-old. Calm seems to have returned to Malakal, but the situation is nonetheless tense."

Edwards says the UNHCR’s main focus is on ensuring protection at transit points and in return areas for southerners going home. He says the agency is setting up stations along major return routes where water and sanitation, health services and rest facilities are being provided.

He says the U.N. Refugee agency is appealing to donors for $53.4 million to support its operation to help people move back to the south from the north.