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Refugees International: Sudan’s post-session talks must prioritise citizenship

By Julius N. Uma

May 31, 2012 (JUBA) - As talks between Sudan and South Sudan got underway on Tuesday US-based Refugees International has recommended that both parties make the status of each other’s citizens a priority.

Refugees International (RI), in its report entitled “South Sudan Nationality: Commitment Now Avoids Conflict Later,” also highlights the particularly vulnerable position of hundreds of thousands of southerners who have yet to be granted nationality certificates.

Sudan has said security issues will be a priority, after conflicts along the north-south border in March and April. Khartoum also hopes that by focusing on security Juba will be forced to admit its backing of rebels in Blue Nile and South Kordofan. Both sides deny backing the other’s rebels.

Sarnata Reynolds, RI’s program manager for statelessness argues that the talks should "include the security of those hundreds of thousands of southerners still in Sudan."

South Sudan seceded from Sudan in July 2011 as part of a peace deal that ended decades of conflict, which displaced over four million people.

"The longer it takes for southerners to be recognized as South Sudanese nationals, the more vulnerable these people are to violence, exclusion, and poverty," he added.

Both Sudan and South Sudan on May 28 convened in Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital to resume talks on a series of post-independence issues in compliance with a roadmap provided by the African Union Peace and Security Council (AUPSC) and the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) 2046.

The talks are being facilitated by the AU High Level Implementation Panel (AUHIP) chaired by former South African President, Thabo Mbeki.

In August 2011, following South Sudan’s session a month earlier, the Sudanese government amended its nationality law to preclude “southern” Sudanese from holding dual nationality, denationalised en masse all southerners of their Sudanese citizenship, fired southern civil servants, and gave all southerners nine months to regularise their status or face deportation similar to any other unlawful foreigner.

As many as 500,000 southerners were still living in the north by the time South Sudan attained independence.

Last month, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in collaboration with both governments began airlifting some of the returnees, since travelling by train or buses was unsafe due to insecurity in Southern Kordofan. Over 8,000 southerners, according to the IOM, have successfully been repatriated.

Refugees International is calling on the Sudanese government to "work with the International Organization for Migration to facilitate the mass movement of this population by flight from Khartoum to Juba, South Sudan”.

The Washington DC-based organisation also cites what it called “serious irregularities” in South Sudan’s process of issuing nationality certificates, and urged the government to ensure the country’s nationality act and regulations are properly implemented to boost the issuing of nationality certificates.

Last week, lawmakers in South Sudan’s Central Equatoria State petitioned the speaker of the State Assembly over what they described as “discrimination” by immigration authorities in the process of issuing passports and identity documents to their citizens. Most of the legislators claimed their constituents were denied these documents, with officials claiming they are “foreigners”.

“I met with some people who were so discouraged by the irregular and excessive demands being made of them that they were actually considering abandoning their pursuit of a nationality certificate,” said Reynolds, who visited Juba, the South Sudan capital last month.

“A person’s color, faith, tribe, ethnicity, or any other attribute should have no bearing on the granting of citizenship. The irregularities we witnessed just reinforce the need for oversight by an independent government unit together with the United Nations to ensure that the process is consistent, fair, and transparent,” he added.