South Sudanese stranded in Kosti returning home

15 May 2012

South Sudanese stranded in Kosti returning home

15 May 2012 - An estimated 12,000 South Sudanese will be airlifted from Khartoum to Juba and provided with humanitarian assistance when they arrive, a top UN official said today.

"This airlift is being organized by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and supported by the government of Sudan and the government of South Sudan," UN Humanitarian Coordinator for South Sudan Lise Grande said in a statement issued from Juba.

Humanitarian agencies have been working around the clock for the past week to be ready to receive these people, many of whom have been stranded in Kosti in Sudan, waiting to come home for up to a year," Ms Grande said.

The humanitarian airlift operation from Kosti via Khartoum began yesterday with two flights bringing 326 South Sudanese to Juba, according to the statement. The operation is expected to continue for the next two weeks with as many as 1,000 people scheduled to arrive on the busiest days.

Once in Juba, returnees are offered temporary accommodation until they can go to their final place of settlement, the statement said. The first group, arriving yesterday, went to Juba way station, which is managed by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

A new transit site, located within Juba County and able to host larger groups, is currently being established by humanitarian partners with the support of Central Equatoria State authorities, the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs and Disaster Management, and the Relief and Rehabilitation Commission.

"Many of these families have been waiting for months and months to return," said Ms. Grande. "We saw babies who had been born in Kosti and were coming home to start a new life in a new country."

UN agencies are rushing to pre-position life-saving supplies throughout South Sudan before the onset of the rains, when up to 60 per cent of rural areas are inaccessible.

Non-governmental organizations, UN agencies, church groups and government ministries are helping more than 375,000 South Sudanese who returned from Sudan over the past year and a half, the statement said.

In addition, they are assisting 20,000 people displaced due to recent border violence,170,000 people affected by inter-communal fighting in Jonglei State in January and 110,000 people displaced from the contested Abyei area a year ago.

The number of refugees is increasing dramatically, with arrivals from Sudan's Southern Kordofan State averaging 550 per day in May, almost six times more than the number arriving in March. An estimated 8,000 refugees have recently arrived or are currently crossing the border into Maban County from Sudan's Blue Nile State.

"Refugees are arriving in South Sudan exhausted after days of walking," Ms Grande said. "Many are traumatized, and an increasing number of children are malnourished. Refugees tell us that they are coming to South Sudan because they are hungry."

In Maban County, which hosts 70,000 refugees, UNHCR and its partners are racing to build life-sustaining infrastructure and support systems. The most acute need is to secure sufficient clean water supply in the county, an area chronically depleted of water sources.

Partners are equally concerned about increasing food insecurity. Assessments done by the Government of South Sudan and humanitarian agencies indicate that 4.7 million people, approximately half the population, are likely to be food insecure during the first year of statehood.

Conditions are particularly difficult in border communities, where prices of basic commodities have risen between 100-200 per cent.

"We are very worried about the situation along the border," Ms Grande said. "In Northern Bahr El- Ghazal, the price of sorghum, a staple food item, nearly doubled in just two weeks."

Funding is urgently needed for the humanitarian operation to continue. Although the Consolidated Appeal for South Sudan covers 271 projects worth $776 million in total, only 32 per cent are funded to date, according to the statement.