South Sudanese stranded in Kosti start returning to the world’s newest country

Report
from UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in South Sudan
Published on 15 May 2012

(Juba, 15 May 2012): The United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator for South Sudan, Ms Lise Grande, said today that an estimated 12,000 South Sudanese will be airlifted from Khartoum to Juba and provided with humanitarian assistance when they arrive.

“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. 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, started yesterday, Monday 14 May, with two flights bringing 326 South Sudanese to Juba. 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 are able to proceed to their final place of settlement. The first group, arriving yesterday, proceeded to the Juba way station, which is managed by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). A new transit site, located within Juba County and offering sufficient capacity to host larger groups, is currently being established by humanitarian partners with the support of the Central Equatoria State authorities, the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs and Disaster Management, and the Relief and Rehabilitation Commission.

“It is very moving to see people arriving in the world’s newest country. Many of these families have been waiting for months and months to return. We saw babies who had been born in Kosti and were coming home to start a new life in a new country,” Ms. Grande said.

The airlift is coming at the busiest time of the year for humanitarian partners. During the four-five month dry season, the UN agencies managing the seven emergency core pipelines rush to pre-position life-saving supplies in hubs throughout South Sudan before the onset of the rains, when up to 60 per cent of rural areas can not be reached. “As humanitarians, we always hope for the best, but we have to be ready for the worst. That’s why we preposition,” Ms Grande said.

The humanitarian operation in South Sudan is one of the largest and most complex in the region. Even before this airlift, more than 30 separate emergency operations were simultaneously underway in the country.

Frontline partners, including non-governmental organizations, UN agencies, church groups and government ministries are helping more than 375,000 South Sudanese who have returned from Sudan in the last year and a half, 20,000 people who have been displaced due to border violence in March and April; 170,000 people affected by inter-communal fighting in Jonglei State in January and the 110,000 people displaced from the contested area of Abyei 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.

“Working in some of the most difficult conditions imaginable, UNHCR has been able to rapidly scale-up refugee operations” Ms Grande said. “Refugees are arriving in South Sudan exhausted after days of walking. Many are traumatised, and an increasing number of children are malnourished. Refugees tell us that they are coming to South Sudan because they are hungry.”

“The refugee operation we visited last week in Yida in Unity State is impressive. Minutes after their arrival, refugees are registered, people are screened for malnutrition, children receive measles vaccinations and families are given two weeks of food. Everything is done in a single location, cutting down on confusion and waiting time,” Ms. Grande said.

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. The combination of food shortfalls, conflict-related displacement, agricultural disruption, a deteriorating economy and border closures are impacting the situation. 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. In Northern Bahr el Ghazal, the price of sorghum, a staple food item, nearly doubled in just two weeks,” Ms Grande said.

The World Food Programme and its partners plan to reach 2.7 million people with food assistance. Assistance programmes will peak during the lean season between harvests, when many destitute households, unable to sustain their families, are forced to sell their assets or go hungry.

“Helping to build the resilience of households so that they can manage through the lean season is a top priority for humanitarian partners,” Ms. Grande said. “Every effort needs to be made to secure people’s livelihoods for the future. The high level meeting being organized this week by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) will help countries in the region, including South Sudan, focus on the strategies needed to address chronic food shortages.”

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

“The scope of the humanitarian operation in South Sudan is enormous,” Ms Grande said. “We must meet our commitments to the people of South Sudan as we approach the first anniversary of independence.”

For further information, contact Neil MacDonald, Head of Communications, UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in South Sudan (macdonaldn@un.org / +211 922 473 115), or Brenda Ammeraal, Communications Officer, Office of the Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in South Sudan (ammeraal@un.org / +211 956 985 604).