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Juba parliament approves 50 million SSDG to transport returnees from Khartoum

March 13, 2012 (JUBA) - The Juba-based National Legislatively Assembly on Tuesday unanimously approved 50 million SSDG (US$18.7 million) needed by the country’s humanitarian affairs and disaster management to facilitate the return of over 700,000 South Sudanese who remain in the north Sudanese capital, Khartoum.

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A South Sudanese man carrying his belongings onto a train organised by IOM at Khartoum, March 1, 2012 (Getty)

Speaking at the National Assembly on Tuesday, Joseph Lual Acuil, minister of humanitarian affairs and disaster management, said the need to return South Sudanese in the neighbouring Sudan needs to be addressed as an “urgent matter” because the 8 April deadline given by the Sudanese government was “fast approaching” and that some of the citizens are already living in the “open space” in Khartoum and elsewhere in Sudan.

“At the moment there are 120,000 people in open spaces in Khartoum. 15,000 others are undergoing similar situation in Kosti. They are living in open spaces where they are vulnerable and exposed to danger. About 5,000 from 21,000 who are living in the open spaces in Egypt equally require immediate attention to be airlifted”, Acuil told the house on Tuesday.

The minister explained since taking over the office in September, his ministry has been able to facilitate the return of 118 vulnerable groups by air to Juba and about 160 people to Greater Bahr el Ghazal, but that the land and river transport is experiencing difficulties with the Sudanese authorities.

Since independence was declared in 2011, there has been a influx of South Sudanese people from what is now north Sudan. Although a deal was signed on citizenship rights by both countries on Tuesday, the future for South Sudanese citizens remaining in north Sudan is unknown.

In September 20,000 South Sudanese returnees were stranded in Kosti when Khartoum impounded the barges scheduled to repatriate them. It was reported that Khartoum feared the barges would be used to the military advantage of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement – North; a rebel movement operating in Blue Nile and South Kordofan state.

Acuil said that Khartoum’s Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) had prohibited the movement of returnees by road between Meram, Abyei, Bentiu and other areas in Upper Nile state; slowing the repatriation. He said Khartoum had denied South Sudanese returnees the opportunity afforded to them by South Sudan’s partners; to be airlifted.

He said the north Sudanese government asked the Government of South Sudan to move 10,000 internally displaced persons from South Sudan currently in Kosti out of their territory before the end of March through two corridors: by train from Babanusa through Meram to Aweil and Wau; and through Bentiu and Renk, specifically for the group returning to Upper Nile, Equatoria and western parts of the Nile.

Acuil said the commissioners of Renk and Melut had not agreed to the proposal – an accusation Deng Ayuel, a member of parliament representing Renk in the National Assembly denies.

“There are already four camps hosting 37,000 people who have been there since May 2011. These people were supposed to be repatriated to their areas of origin two weeks after their arrival from Kosti but this was not done. So commissioners did not refuse as the reported by the minister. They are asking the ministry to reduce the number that is already there so that the area can receive the others,” Ayuel explained.

Due to the urgency of the situation Acuil said he had requested the funding “to move our beloved brothers and sisters exposed to danger in Sudan back home.”

Daniel Awet Akot, who chaired the session, also joined the members in approving assistance for South Sudanese wanting to return from Egypt.

(ST)