Returnees straining services they crave

3 Sep 2012

Returnees straining services they crave

A continuing flow of returnees into Eastern Equatoria State is taxing its already limited sources of water, electricity and housing, officials say.

The latest arrivals in early June were 1,150 returnees recently airlifted from Khartoum to South Sudan by the International Organization for Migration, who pushed the total arriving in the state since December 2012 to 7,857.

Some new arrivals moved on to final destinations outside the capital, but over 90 per cent remained in Torit, according to the state's UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) Field Office head, Acacio Jafar Juliao.

Those who stayed in the capital were drawn to its health facilities, schools, water and electricity, Mr. Juliao said, although some had no relatives to live with.

One of them was 37-year-old Agnes Peter Ode, who returned after spending 19 years in Sudan. "I want my children to go to school," said Ms. Ode. "I hope the government will give me land where I can build my house."

But the increased number of returnees in the state capital is putting pressure on the very services they crave.

"The large number of returnees has caused stress on schools, water and sanitation services, electricity and housing facilities," said Torit County Commissioner William Oyet Oromo.

Humanitarian agencies fear that the large concentration of returnees in Torit County will place a high demand on it limited food supplies.

"Torit County suffers more stress on available resources as compared to other counties," according to a Food and Agriculture Organization food security update issued on 1 June. 'Food security within Torit might worsen."

The update also warns that increased returnees in Torit could threaten sanitation and hygiene as well as the environment, if they sell forest products to make a living.

"We drilled two boreholes and constructed four classrooms in Saint Teresa School to reduce the pressure on some of the social services in the city," said UNHCR head Juliao.

Assisting returnees to build houses and settle permanently is among the state's reintegration priorities for them, but most returnees in Torit still have no plots.

Many, like Ms. Ode, are hoping they will be awarded land. "I want the government to give me land where I can build a house," said returnee Mary Albino Peta. "I can work at anything ... as a cleaner or wash cloths to survive."

Several agencies -- the state Relief and Rehabilitation Commission, the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, UNHCR and UNMISS -- have expressed concern to Commissioner Oromo over the delay in allocating plots to returnees.

The Commissioner said a land ownership dispute among different communities had hindered allocation of plots to the new arrivals.

"I am ... lobbying with the communities regarding land," said the commissioner, adding that his office was planning to hold a peace and reconciliation workshop among them in the near future.

The land delay has postponed construction material assistance for some families to build homes.

"UNHCR identified some 117 vulnerable families among the returnees as of September 2011, but we could not implement the programme because most had no plots," said Mr. Juliao. "Only 15 households who had their own plots in Torit benefited."