FEATURE-South Sudanese find their way home slow going
Wed Sep 28, 2011 2:00pm GMT
By Ulf Laessing
KOSTI, Sudan, Sept 28 (Reuters) - Four months after Paula Lodo left her
Khartoum slum to head back to South Sudan, she finds herself in yet another
makeshift home south of the Sudanese capital.
"I am stuck on the way home for four months, can you believe this?" Lodo
said, sitting with her six daughters in a dusty tent camp near this northern
White Nile city.
Like tens of thousands of other southerners, Lodo packed up and left
Khartoum in anticipation of the coming split between Sudan and South Sudan,
catching a truck to Kosti to continue southwards by barge.
But the barge to bring her home never showed up and she is now stranded with
17,000 others in a camp originally built for 1,200. Heavy rain has created a
large pool in the middle of the facility, filled with garbage and attracting
scores of flies.
Lodo has put up a tent made from the same plastic sheets, blankets and wood
branches used to build her home in Khartoum where she lived for 32 years
after fleeing the civil war.
"We were promised boats to continue but we are still here. I don't know why.
It's very bad," Lodo said, seeking relief from the scorching sun under the
shade of a large tree.
The United Nations has estimated that more than 342,000 people have made the
move southward since October, a few months before the independence
referendum in January set July 9 as the date when South Sudan would become
Khartoum has given the more than one million southerners who still live in
the predominantly Muslim north until spring to either leave or get residency
and work permits -- a complicated process.
Mostly Christians or people who follow traditional beliefs, and facing legal
or employment uncertainties, many southerners can't wait to leave.
But many are also somewhere stuck on the way home -- at railway stations,
major roads or in Nile ports like Kosti.
The delays are partly to do with a lack of coordination among the two
governments and partly to do with the financial difficulties of South Sudan,
which cannot provide sufficient transport. Non-governmental organisations
are trying to help.
WANT TO HEAD HOME
"We want to go to our home village. We don't know why we can't go on," said
Samira Otsmu, who has been waiting in the Kosti camp since July for a barge
to bring her family and few belongings to the southern capital of Juba.
Experts mostly blame the shortage of barges on the Juba government which
started a programme to bring southerners home but is running out of funds.
More barges are being rented with the help of United Nations and NGOs but
many more is needed.
Much poorer than the north, South Sudan is facing a myriad of challenges
from setting up state institutions and building infrastructure to ending
widespread tribal and rebel violence.
"The situation is improving now but we need more efforts," said Sultan Ali
Kanji, an official in South Sudan's relief commission who is trying to
He said the key problem apart from finding funds was a lack of coordination
between north and south on how to organise the return of southerners and
accommodate them in transit camps.
"What we want from the NGOs and the Republic of South Sudan and this
government is to agree on one thing. They should bring the returnees to
their home villages," he said, standing in front of a rusty barge being
loaded with luggage.
Many thousands have gone home by trains or made the arduous journey by bus
or lorry. But those like Lodo coming from eastern regions often have no
choice but to go by barge as their villages lie by the Nile and are not
serviced by good roads.
More than 18,000 southerners are stuck in Renk, the first southern port on
the White Nile after Kosti, the United Nations said on Monday.
One big obstacle is that many are bringing with them their entire household
belongings and even, as in Lodo's case, the branches and corrugated iron
they used to build their slum homes.
"Twenty-six river barges now left of which 15 were loaded only with luggage
and nine with passengers," said Mohammed Abdul Raziq, a senior northern
relief official working in the camp.
"If it hadn't been for the luggage it would have been possible to transport
all the returnees," he said, speaking as a truck from Kosti town prepared to
distribute water in the camp.
But for poor southerners like 34-year-old Charles Nelson, leaving behind
furniture is out of question.
"It's impossible, nobody can leave his luggage behind," he said, sitting
with his family in front of a tent they live in.
With nothing to do, a group of young men nearby play dominoes at a plastic
table, their main activity for months.
"It's the unemployment that makes us play dominoes," said Yaqoub Agolav, who
also came from Khartoum. "If we go to the south we will find work, but we
have been here for three months unable to go to the south and we don't know
why." (Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)
C Thomson Reuters 2011 All rights reserved
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Received on Wed Sep 28 2011 - 15:18:08 EDT