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South Sudan unprepared for the flood of returning refugees

South Sudan's government has brought home hundreds of South Sudanese, but it seems unable to meet the needs of the people who arrived before that and are still trying to establish themselves.

By Maggie FickCorrespondent / January 26, 2011



Aweil, Sudan

On a motorcycle tour of his South Sudan neighborhood of thatched straw lean-tos and mud huts, many of them sprouting makeshift television antennas, Santino Deng gestures to a group of children busily rolling up straw fences and packing up wooden poles.

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“They’re preparing for the demolition tomorrow,” he explains, as if this is an everyday occurrence. There is resignation in his voice after months of trying to convince the state government to reverse its decision to raze his neighborhood near the state government's office. His efforts did not bear fruit. Asked where his family would go tomorrow when the government came to claim the property he has lived on since he returned from Khartoum in 2003, he shrugged and said, “I think we will go to my brother’s house, because we don’t have anywhere else to go."

Despite his best efforts to find out why the government wants to relocate hundreds of residents in the an area called “Zirrah” in Aweil, the capital of Northern Bahr el Ghazal state, Deng and his community have been left in the dark and told simply that they must relocate, at their own expense, to plots on the outskirts of Aweil that they must pay for. Deng says his family doesn’t have money to buy a new plot, and besides, he says, “it’s bad land that floods every rainy season. We just want to stay where we are.” If he does move to the new plots, Deng will find himself near the 11,000 (and counting) southerners who are camped out near town, waiting for the government to decide where exactly they can settle permanently. Over the past three weeks, these new arrivals have constructed a makeshift village, setting up tea stands and shisha parlors under trees and making do with 15-day rations provided to them by the World Food Program.

Sadly, South Sudanese people are accustomed to living their lives on the run. Millions of southerners fled their homes during the latest north-south civil war, escaping aerial raids by the northern Sudanese army or running from Khartoum-backed southern militias, who cleared vast swathes of territory to enable oil companies to begin exploiting the south’s significant reserves amid the chaos created by decades of near-continuous conflict.

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