South Sudanese in the US mull going home to build a nation

Last month's historic vote on South Sudan's independence raises a tough question for those who have fled the underdeveloped region: Should they return?

In celebration of South Sudan's historic independence vote last month, voters beat drums in both Juba – and Arlington, Mass.

For the South Sudanese diaspora in the United States, the referendum marked a moment of joy and relief – the establishment of their own homeland may finally mean they don't have to worry about the safety of friends and family.

But the vote also raises a tough question for those who have fled South Sudan: Should they return?

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"They are excited, they are ready," says Ezekiel Lol Gatkuoth, head of the government of South Sudan's mission to the US, which acts as an unofficial embassy. "They came to get educated, to gain skills, and to go back and participate in development," he notes.

Their support for independence is clear – 99 percent of the 8,500 voters in the US cast ballots for secession. But that support may not translate to an immediate return.

The new South Sudan will be one of the world's poorest countries. Ninety percent of its population lives below the poverty line, according to the United Nations, and the region is largely undeveloped. It could take decades for South Sudan to develop infrastructure and a robust economy.

A lack of jobs makes South Sudanese in the US reluctant to return permanently, says Moses Ajou, who has lived in Chelsea, Mass., for 10 years. "There's a lot that still needs to be done," he says. "They would be happy to go back and work there, but [the government] can't guarantee jobs."

Instead, many plan to send remittances, which they feel are needed more than their physical return. "The situation back home is pretty dire. They need money there more," Mr. Ajou says.

He adds that many will stay in the US but visit South Sudan and keep their citizenship there, explaining that they can be Sudanese and American.

"They say all Americans have two homes."

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