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Return to South Sudan ahead of the referendum

Briefing notes

Return to South Sudan ahead of the referendum

7 January 2011

The number of southerners who are leaving the North ahead of this week's landmark Sudan referendum to return to their ancestral homes in the South has doubled since mid-December and now stands at 120,000. There is an average of 2,000 people crossing into the South each day. We anticipate that many more will return in the coming months following the referendum. Many of the returnees who have lived in the North for years say they have left for fear of the unknown and the opportunity to start afresh in their native South.

Following the referendum it will be essential that the status of those southern Sudanese who would prefer to remain in the North is established. We are concerned about the spectre of a significant number of southerners in the North having uncertain citizen status, possibly becoming stateless. We are actively supporting negotiations with officials to address this issue, which if left unresolved could result in an even larger movement south. There are an estimated 1.5 -2 million southerners who live in the North.

Approximately 30 per cent of returnees to date have gone to urban centres, while the remainder are going to rural areas. Most the returnees originate from the Khartoum area where some have lived for two generations. As a result they do not necessarily have a home village to return to, but having lived in an urban environment they are settling in South Sudan's urban centres. This puts additional pressure on the fragile infrastructure of South Sudan's towns and has prompted UNHCR to focus its attention on these urban returns. We are providing assistance to 35,000 returnees in and around the town of Abyei, with stocks in the South for more than 100,000, should they be needed.

One of the regions that have received high number of returnees from the North is the Upper Nile. Every day, buses and barges with returnees arrive in the state capital, Malakal. They have come with everything they own. The buses and barges are packed with beds, sofa seats, chairs, tables, cooking pans and utensils, corrugated iron sheets, radio sets, and some have even come with TV sets, fridges and small generators. In Malakal, they are registered and provided with reintegration packages by the state authorities before moving on to their homes villages.

Since early last year UNHCR established a presence in the ten states of South Sudan to support returnees and the existing community. In addition we set up eight way stations and a number of soup kitchens along the route to the principal areas of return. These way stations are providing a safe place for women, children and the elderly to rest as they make the arduous journey home.

Our community services and protection specialists in the region are monitoring and following up on cases of unaccompanied and separated children, survivors of gender based violence, elderly and disabled people who need support.