Airlift of South Sudanese from Sudan gets under way
Mon May 14, 2012 2:51pm GMT
* First 164 out of stranded 12,000 flies into Juba
* Waves and welcomes as they taken to reception camp
* Tensions highlight plight of South Sudanese in Sudan
By Alexander Dziadosz and Pascal Fletcher
KHARTOUM/JUBA, May 14 (Reuters) - The first group of around 12,000 South
Sudanese ordered out of Sudan last month as conflict flared between the two
neighbours flew into the southern nation's capital Juba on Monday in an
internationally backed humanitarian airlift.
They are among hundreds of thousands of Southerners living in Sudan who lost
jobs and were left without official residency papers after South Sudan broke
away last July to become the world's newest independent state.
The Southerners' plight in the north has become more acute as simmering
disputes between Khartoum and Juba over oil exports, border demarcation and
reciprocal citizenship rights erupted into fighting along the frontier last
Plans for deals to grant reciprocal residency and freedom of movement
stalled because of the outbreak of fighting, which has since ended. The
United Nations Security Council demanded both sides settle their disputes
peacefully or face sanctions.
A charter plane flew 164 people from Khartoum to Juba on Monday, the start
of an airlift organised by the International Organisation for Migration
(IOM) of thousands of Southerners who had been stranded at the Sudanese port
of Kosti on the Nile.
Last month, Sudanese authorities in Kosti accused some 12,000 South Sudanese
gathered in the area of posing a security and environmental threat and
ordered them to leave.
The first evacuees, consisting mostly of women in brightly coloured shawls
accompanied by young children and some men, were met by IOM and South
Sudanese officials and taken by bus to a dusty reception camp on the
outskirts of Juba operated by the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR.
"I'm very happy to be here," said Helen Mussa, smiling but weary and clearly
a little apprehensive as she sat with others on benches under a tin roof in
oppressive heat at the temporary camp.
As the convoy of buses carried the newly arrived Southerners from the
airport, some Juba residents waved and smiled and at one point a group of
women ululated in joyful greeting.
"This is yours, this is where you belong. Welcome home," the acting governor
of Central Equatoria State where Juba is located, Manasse Lomore, told the
Terencio Lako Mario, 47, a laboratory technician who said he had lived in
the north in Sudan for the last 28 years, said he was glad to be back in his
now independent home country.
"We faced a lot of difficulties in the North. We were not getting health
attention, we had problems with education for our children and housing and
we were forced to live outside Khartoum," he told Reuters.
"It's a big change. When you start a new life, there will always be
challenges but I am prepared to face them," he added.
IOM officials said most of the first group flown in had relatives in Central
Equatoria State and so would be able to reintegrate back into the community.
HARD ADJUSTMENT FOR SOME
IOM's Chief of Mission in Khartoum, Jill Helke, said several thousand
Southerners had been registered for the flights so far, but it was unclear
how many would finally take the option.
There would be another flight on Monday and the number of daily flights in
the airlift would increase.
"We should have been able to start yesterday, we were not in the end allowed
to fly for security reasons. But we're starting today and hope things will
go smoothly from now on," Helke said.
Earlier at Khartoum airport, as the flight prepared to leave, South Sudan's
Ambassador to Sudan, Kau Nak Maper, told reporters that the flights would
continue until the last Southerner who wished to return came back safely.
"Every Southerner that wants to return voluntarily to South Sudan, will get
a chance to travel," he said.
Most of the passengers carried only hand luggage, some only canvas sacks. A
truck loaded up hundreds more bags outside Khartoum airport, preparing to
take them to the South by road.
A barge carrying some 1,700 Southerners down the Nile from Kosti was due to
arrive in Juba later this week.
The IOM and other humanitarian agencies are working with South Sudan's
authorities to prepare better facilities to be able to receive the flow of
Southerners expected from the north.
Although most of the Southerners on the first flight appeared pleased to be
in South Sudan, for those who were born in the north or who had spent most
of their lives there, it was clear that the adjustment could be a big
"We've been in the north for a long time. We were born here, grew up here,
and studied here. Now we're going back to our country, and it's hard for
us," said Julia Richard, 23, as she prepared to board the flight with her
More than half a million more South Sudanese remain in the north, most
without residency papers and treated as foreigners.
In Juba, the capital of South Sudan, thousands of Sudanese citizens also
face a new government that has declared them expatriates. But it has not yet
imposed any new rules for residency papers and appears willing to let them
stay. (Writing by Pascal Fletcher; Editing by Rosalind Russell)
C Thomson Reuters 2012 All rights reserved
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Received on Mon May 14 2012 - 18:15:51 EDT