Humanitarian agencies use White Nile ferry to start major return of vulnerable Sudanese IDPs
Note: This story was lightly edited on February 7.
BOR, Sudan, 6 Feb (UNHCR) - After a journey along the White Nile, a double-decker ferry docked in the South Sudan town of Bor with 376 returnees, part of efforts by humanitarian agencies to help internally displaced South Sudanese return home after many years of displacement.
The group on the ferry was mainly composed of women, children and the aged, while returning men went by foot, escorting their half a million cattle from Western Equatoria back to Bor.
The passengers, all from the Dinka ethnic group, were singing joyfully when they stepped ashore in the riverside town in Jonglei State on Sunday and were met by jubilant relatives and friends. They had left Juba 14 hours earlier as 375 internally displaced persons (IDPs) but a baby girl was born during the trip.
"The moment you stepped off the ferry, you became citizens of Bor, you are IDPs no longer," said the acting governor of Jonglei State. "There is plenty of land waiting for you and you will be able to rebuild your communities and educate your children."
The returnees were part of some 4,800 IDPs who had been staying at UNHCR's Lologo way station near Juba. Sixteen years ago, as the ravages of the civil war reached their home region, these Dinkas fled Bor and settled around Maridi in Western Equatoria State.
The signing of the peace agreement in January 2005 finally created the possibility for them to return to Bor. After the end of the rainy season in September last year, they started to return on foot. With their half a million head of cattle they started to cross the White Nile at Juba last November, and continued north along the east bank of the river. That trek is still going on; 250,000 cattle have arrived so far and are now in 34 cattle camps around Bor.
The women, children and elderly stayed behind at Juba. UNHCR, together with the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and other aid agencies are now organising their return on a barge rebuilt as a passenger ferry and are providing them with assistance at departing and arrival points. Sunday's movement was the first of 12 ferry trips planned for the next two months.
This is the first large group of Sudanese IDPs who have been assisted to return home by humanitarian agencies. A second group of Dinkas from Bor, displaced in December to Yei, at the border with Uganda, will be assisted to return when all from Juba are back. The 4,600 Dinka IDPs in Yei fled inter-ethnic conflict in Yambio and other parts of Western Equatoria, where they had been displaced until then.
At the arrival point in Bor, UNHCR has established a way station where the World Food Programme, UNICEF and the Adventist Development and Relief Agency International are providing returnees with food, medicine and medical care. UNHCR also provides returnees with items such as plastic sheeting, jerry cans, mosquito nets and kitchen sets.
Upon arrival, UNHCR, IOM and the SRRC (Sudanese Relief and Rehabilitation Commission) register returnees, most of whom will spend one to three nights in the way station before going to their villages around Bor. Material to build the way station and the assistance items were transported on two boats from Juba two weeks ago. Other supplies were airlifted due to the risk of mines on the roads.
The general situation in Bor remains difficult, with very little infrastructure and few services. Many villages in the surrounding countryside are hard to reach because of landmines in roads and fields. Despite these challenges, the only wish of the IDPs in Juba and Yei is to return home and rebuild their country after so many years of displacement.
By Mans Nyberg in Bor, South Sudan