Some 55,000 head south to areas of origin ahead of Sudan's referendum
Tens of thousands of southerners living in North Sudan have headed back to South Sudan in recent weeks ahead of a key referendum on independence.
KHARTOUM, Sudan, December 21 (UNHCR) - Almost 55,000 southerners living in the North have made their way back to South Sudan in the past few weeks ahead of next month's key referendum on independence.
Their movement by road, rail, barge and plane has been both organized by the South Sudan government and spontaneous. Most have returned to Unity State, but Upper Nile, Northern Bahr el Ghazal, Jonglei and Warrap states have also received large numbers of returnees.
"In the sprawling camps for displaced people around Khartoum, thousands of southerners are packing their belongings and waiting to leave," a UNHCR spokesman said, while adding that "the new arrivals are straining a fragile humanitarian environment."
South Sudan is already dealing with more than 215,000 internally displaced people who have been uprooted by ethnic clashes, rebel attacks or other forms of insecurity since January.
Last week, UNHCR began distributing aid to some of the 35,000 returnees in and around the town of Abyei - a historic bridge between the north and south areas. These are people who came from Khartoum with the help of local authorities and they are benefitting from emergency shelter kits.
"We have also mobilized resources to respond to possible increases in humanitarian needs elsewhere, by shipping and pre-positioning essential humanitarian supplies, including in surrounding countries," the spokesman said.
At the same time, UNHCR is setting up reception centres along the way in Sudan to assist people during their journey and strengthening its presence and capacity in key southern states and counties.
Since the signing of a comprehensive peace agreement in January 2005 between the Sudanese government in Khartoum and the southern Sudan rebel group, the Sudan People's Liberation Army, some 2 million displaced people have returned to their communities in southern Sudan and the so-called 'Three Areas' of Abyei, Blue Nile and Southern Kordofan. Another 330,000 refugees returned from exile, most of them with the help of UNHCR.
Achieving durable solutions for these returnees remains difficult due to rising insecurity and limited access to services, livelihoods and infrastructure. UNHCR will continue to focus on the returnees and work to ensure their successful integration into southern Sudan society.