A year after freedom, South Sudanese languish up north
Conflict and poverty stand in the way of perhaps 40,000 South Sudanese whose bags were packed a year ago but are now stranded in squatter camps of the north.
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"Some donors asked: 'What if you arrive [in South Sudan] and find it is worse?' They said: 'We would rather die in the south," recalls Mr. Cutts.Skip to next paragraph
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UN and donor access is limited to other conflict areas in Sudan, but "here we have 40,000 people who we can help, whose case is one of great need, who feel [South Sudan] is a place where they are safe and can rebuild their lives with dignity – and the international community is afraid to be seen to facilitate ethnic separation," says Cutts.
All sides recognize that it is solely the responsibility of the two governments – especially South Sudan – to find a solution. But it has been clear for months that an official solution is unaffordable.
"What money does the government of South Sudan have? And what money does Sudan have? And if they have it, would they spend it on [people from South Sudan]?'" asks Cutts. "Even if it's a lot of money, maybe $30 million, compared to the $1.5 billion in humanitarian aid spent in a year on Sudan, north and south, it's not too much."
Blankets for roofs
In the encampments, where south Sudanese are now officially dubbed "stranded returnees," the months-long wait has added just one more strategic disappointment to lives defined by conflict, displacement and chronic uncertainty.
Children run about – one playfully taking aim at a visitor with a toy plastic gun – unable to go to school because Khartoum authorities always expected their imminent departure. Earthen ground has been swept immaculately at the refugee-style huts. Yet when it rains, water pours off the tarpaulins and through blanket "roofs," making deep muddy puddles.
"Everything is ready. If there is transport today, they will go – they will not live here one day more," says Santino Dena Mawien, a South Sudan administrative officer from Wau, as he visits this encampment. He points out the lack of any water, toilets, and baths.
"What about food? You forget?" asks Issa, the displaced mother, after overhearing the official.
"God will give it," replies Mr. Mawien, only half in jest.
"God's mercy!" answers Issa, disappointed. "They use this language to talk to us...."
Speaking later to a group of the stranded – with mothers cradling children, and most men away hunting for work or money – Mawien tries to reassure.
"If you go [back to South Sudan], there is no problem, you will go to your home, you will find your father there, your mother there, and families," says Mawien.
That prospect certainly appeals here. The "souk" in the encampment has an assortment of goods at fire-sale prices: a BBQ set-up, an aged Singer sewing machine, a satellite dish, a gallon of synthetic enamel paint and a clothes iron – all for sale so those stuck here have money to buy food.
Inside one shelter, an baby sweats on a bed, asleep. In another, an unwell man lays sprawled in the sweltering heat.