• Text size Normal size text | Increase text size by 10% | Increase text size by 20% | Increase text size by 30%

Returnees build their own village back in South Sudan

News Stories, 11 December 2012

© UNHCR/M.Sunjic
Sultana Julia, a community leader, is helping people who returned to South Sudan to build a new village for themselves.

KUDA, South Sudan, December 11 (UNHCR) After two decades in exile, 1,600 particularly vulnerable people returning to independent South Sudan no longer had a place they could call home. The solution has been to help them build their own village.

"You will like it here, all is right," Sultana Julia said, welcoming three busloads of people who had just arrived and were looking around at the new returnee village of Kuda. She is one of three elected community leaders among the group of returnees who have been given the chance to rebuild their lives in a new village after 20 years of exile in Khartoum and months of uncertainty in a temporary transit centre established by UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration close to the South Sudan capital, Juba.

After less than a week, the village already had an air of normality. Children were playing, laundry was drying on clotheslines and the first little stalls had sprung up offering washing powder, teabags and even freshly fried snacks.

In a week-long operation, UNHCR and partner organizations relocated the group from the transit centre to their new home, 35 kilometres north of Juba. Land for the village and agriculture was allocated by the government and a welcoming host community.

The group was among 12,000 returnees airlifted last May from Khartoum to Juba where with no other family in South Sudan or a place to go they got stranded. The group is ethnically diverse and mostly women, children and older people; there are many medical cases. Women head most households and the highly respected Julia has become one of the very few female community leaders in South Sudan.

Smiling people arriving on buses were greeted by friends and relatives who had come earlier. They unloaded their few belongings from trucks that accompanied the convoys and moved into long houses that shelter several families while they build the individual houses that will make up their new village.

Among the arrivals was an old woman in a wheelchair. Her neighbours pushed her to the room she has been assigned and carried her meagre luggage. The old lady could hardly speak but nodded happily and a broad, toothless smile spread across her face.

UNHCR, with its partners, dug a drainage system, provided boreholes and water stands; the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) built latrines. Each person received three months of food rations from the World Food Programme, ensuring returnees have time to build their village, start growing crops and ensure sustainable livelihoods.

A new clinic and school will benefit both returnees and the host community. Some children from both communities have never been to school, but this is to change. "There are several qualified teachers among our group. They can provide education to our children and to those of the locals," Julia said.

Local youngsters, in turn, have started teaching their new neighbours how to fish the rivers and ponds surrounding Kuda. Fish are plentiful and the learning period short; some newly arrived boys were trying to sell their catch to UNHCR staff.

"For our staff, this is a happy occasion," said Mireille Girard, UNHCR's representative to South Sudan. "While we are preparing for a new refugee influx and fear renewed internal displacement in South Sudan, here we have people who were able to overcome the plight of displacement. We are glad we could offer them the chance to start a new life."

By Melita H. Sunjic in Kuda, South Sudan




UNHCR country pages

South Sudan Crisis: Urgent Appeal

Donate now and help to provide emergency aid to tens of thousands of people fleeing South Sudan to escape violence.

Donate to this crisis

Return to Swat Valley

Thousands of displaced Pakistanis board buses and trucks to return home, but many remain in camps for fear of being displaced again.

Thousands of families displaced by violence in north-west Pakistan's Swat Valley and surrounding areas are returning home under a government-sponsored repatriation programme. Most cited positive reports about the security situation in their home areas as well as the unbearable heat in the camps as key factors behind their decision to return. At the same time, many people are not yet ready to go back home. They worry about their safety and the lack of access to basic services and food back in Swat. Others, whose homes were destroyed during the conflict, are worried about finding accommodation. UNHCR continues to monitor people's willingness to return home while advocating for returns to take place in safety and dignity. The UN refugee agency will provide support for the transport of vulnerable people wishing to return, and continue to distribute relief items to the displaced while assessing the emergency shelter needs of returnees. More than 2 million people have been displaced since early May in north-west Pakistan. Some 260,000 found shelter in camps, but the vast majority have been staying with host families or in rented homes or school buildings.

Return to Swat Valley

Battling the Elements in Chad

More than 180,000 Sudanese refugees have fled violence in Sudan's Darfur region, crossing the border to the remote desert of eastern Chad.

It is one of the most inhospitable environments UNHCR has ever had to work in. Vast distances, extremely poor road conditions, scorching daytime temperatures, sandstorms, the scarcity of vegetation and firewood, and severe shortages of drinkable water have been major challenges since the beginning of the operation. Now, heavy seasonal rains are falling, cutting off the few usable roads, flooding areas where refugees had set up makeshift shelters, and delaying the delivery of relief supplies.

Despite the enormous environmental challenges, UNHCR has so far managed to establish nine camps and relocate the vast majority of the refugees who are willing to move from the volatile border.

Battling the Elements in Chad

Southerners on the move before Sudanese vote

Ahead of South Sudan's landmark January 9, 2011 referendum on independence, tens of thousands of southern Sudanese in the North packed their belongings and made the long trek south. UNHCR set up way stations at key points along the route to provide food and shelter to the travellers during their arduous journey. Several reports of rapes and attacks on travellers reinforced the need for these reception centres, where women, children and people living with disabilities can spend the night. UNHCR has made contingency plans in the event of mass displacement after the vote, including the stockpiling of shelter and basic provisions for up to 50,000 people.

Southerners on the move before Sudanese vote

South Sudan: Food Security Play video

South Sudan: Food Security

Jacob is plowing 20 kilometers far from his own home town, Bor, after having to abandon it due to the ongoing fighting in South Sudan. Now in Mingkaman camp,as a displaced person, this land he plows is all he has after losing farm and cattle back home
South Sudan: Flooding Disaster Play video

South Sudan: Flooding Disaster

Nearly 100,000 people are living in cramped, overcrowded camps in Mingkaman, in Rivers State, South Sudan. Whenever it rains, tents become flooded causing already fragile sanitation conditions to worsen.
South Sudan: Rainy SeasonPlay video

South Sudan: Rainy Season

As the rainy season approaches, the humanitarian situation in South Sudan remains critical. The rains will make it more difficult to bring in aid and if conflict continues, half of South Sudan's 12 million people could be in danger of starvation by the end of this year.