IOM Director-General, William Lacy Swing arrived yesterday in Juba, the capital of South Sudan, on the third leg of a visit which also took him to Somalia and Kenya.
Ambassador Swing is in South Sudan to meet government officials, including President Salva Kiir Maryadit, and to inspect humanitarian emergency work being carried out by IOM.
This is Mr Swing's first visit to the country since South Sudan declared independence from the North in July 2011 and joined IOM at the end of the same year.
Ambassador Swing will review with South Sudanese government officials the progress made in assisting the return of thousands of their citizens from the north. The Sudanese government had set a deadline for all southerners wishing to return to the south to do so before April 8th, 2012, or seek to regularize their stay in the north.
'I am excited to be here to visit the newest of our members to underline IOM's commitments to work with the government and the people of South Sudan. The challenges faced by the new country are many; foremost is to facilitate a safe and dignified return of thousands of South Sudanese and to provide them with means to sustain their livelihood once they are back. I am glad that in a short time, IOM has succeeded to assemble a team of highly motivated staff, local and international, who have demonstrated great commitment to take on the work of assisting the returnees and the local community,' said the IOM Director-General.
Mr Swing will also tour Pibor town in Jonglei State, the scene of recent inter-ethnic clashes which left an estimated 120,000 displaced. IOM has sent four convoys of non-food relief items, including plastic sheeting, blankets, jerry cans and cooking utensils to the area, and is currently working with humanitarian partners on the ground to distribute the aid, targeting some 40,000 beneficiaries.
Mr Swing will also inspect ongoing work to assist thousands of Southern Sudanese returnees from the North after they arrive in the South. IOM provides transport to final destinations, pre-departure health checks and other assistance.
On his first day in Juba, Mr Swing met the deputy foreign minister, Prof. Elias Nyamlell Wako. The talks centred on the need for the South and the North governments to sign a bilateral agreement to facilitate the return of remaining South Sudanese nationals from the north.
There are an estimated 500,000 Southern Sudanese still in Khartoum and elsewhere in the north. But according to Mr Wako the number could be much higher.
Mr Swing assured the government of IOM's continued support in responding to multiple humanitarian emergencies in South Sudan, as well as programmes to support the reintegration of the returnees.
Since the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in 2005, more than 2.5 million South Sudanese have returned to the South. IOM supports the Government of South Sudan with its repatriation programme.
To date IOM in South Sudan has provided transportation assistance to over 52,000 stranded returnees to reach their areas of final destination by road and river barges.
South Sudan lacks basic basic infrastructure, there are less than 100km of tarred road across the country. Returnees are often stranded at points of entry due to a lack of available transport. Insecurity along the border areas with Sudan has limited return routes, and added more challenges to the returns process.
Upon arrival at the final destinations, the returnees are confronted with challenges of slow allocation of land by the authorities, lack of shelter, lack of employment opportunities and insecurity.
IOM is developing an integrated and comprehensive reintegration strategy for the UN with the backing of UN Humanitarian Coordinator Lise Grande.
Mr Swing toured the Juba port where thousands of returnees pass through to continue with their journey to other parts of the country. He witnessed several river barges being offloaded with returnees' possessions in preparation for a journey to final destinations.
IOM staff working at the port explained to Mr Swing the challenges of sorting out huge volume of luggage belonging to the returnees, many of whom were either born or had lived in Sudan for many years. They include household items, workshop machinery and individual means of transport such as bicycles, motorcycles and mopeds, building materials and food items.
Though South Sudan became an IOM member late last year, the Organization has been working in Southern Sudan since 2005 in areas such as IDPs return assistance, tracking and registration of the returns, humanitarian relief operations, provision of immigration, border management equipment and trainings and the provision of clean water and sanitation.
Since January 2011, the Organization has served 187,070 individuals through the provision of non-food items and emergency relief, built 1090 latrines and provided portable water to 246,700 individuals in rural areas.
The Organization, in partnership with the South Sudan Relief and Rehabilitation Commission, operates a tracking and monitoring database on returnees and IDPs for the humanitarian community in South Sudan. Since 2005 to date it has tracked and registered more than 2.5 million returnees; the largest record kept by any organization in South Sudan.
For more information, please contact Vincent Hoover, IOM Juba. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Tel: +249.901.238.886 .
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