KHARTOUM, 17 May 2007 (IRIN) - Mary Kwol, a 35-year-old single mother of six, has been living in a Khartoum camp for internally displaced people (IDPs) for nearly 30 years. She arrived in the Omdurman el-Salaam camp with her parents when she was six and has raised all her children there.
She now wants to go back to Unity state in the south where she hopes to find better opportunities to enable her to take care of her children, five of whom are younger than 10.
"Life here [in the camp] has been tough. I walk around town looking for odd jobs, mostly washing clothes for people to earn some money to buy food for my children. Maybe I will not be much better off in the village but at least there will be land on which to grow our own food," Kwol told IRIN at a departure centre where the United Nations-affiliated International Organization for Migration (IOM) was registering displaced people who have decided to go back to their villages in southern Sudan.
Tens of thousands of people, both refugees and IDPs, have returned to Southern Sudan since the signing in January 2005 of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement that ended two decades of war between former rebels of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) and the government in Khartoum.
According to the IOM, at least 50,000 people have been helped to move from Khartoum and South Darfur to South Kordofan and South Sudan. An airlift is planned in June once the rains set in, from Khartoum to south Sudan, as well as barge operations on the Nile from Kosti in White Nile State to the south.
The programme for the organised return of IDPs was prepared jointly by Sudan's Government of National Unity in Khartoum, the Government of Southern Sudan (GOSS), the UN and the IOM, the implementing agency.
Threat of landmines, LRA attacks
Kosti Manibe, the minister for humanitarian affairs in the Government of National Unity and himself a southerner, said landmines on some of the roads that would have been used to take displaced people home have slowed down the exercise. Some sections of the railway line have also been mined.
Attacks by the Ugandan rebel group, the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), were preventing returns to areas in the Equatoria states, Manibe said, adding, however, that the situation was now under control and that the Southern Sudanese army was more organised and better placed to protect civilians from threats posed by armed groups.
He said it was estimated that 20 percent of the total number of people who were displaced from Southern Sudan would opt to be integrated with host communities in areas where they sought refuge, and these people, too, would require assistance. Aid workers, however, believe larger numbers of the displaced will elect to remain where they are, in Khartoum, for example.
The aim is to help IDPs, including 150,000 in Khartoum, return to their original villages in Southern Sudan. Returnees are also being helped to go back from other states such as South Darfur to Northern Bahr el-Ghazal, Wau town to Warrap and Equatoria to Bor, according to Pat Duggan, senior return, reintegration and recovery officer with the UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS).
"One of the big challenges actually is the weather. For instance, we can't do road convoys during the wet season, so after May or early June it becomes very hard to continue road movements. Road movements to a number of states stopped in early May. Returns by barge or air will only be to main cities or main towns," she said.
"We are returning people to all 10 states in the south and also to South Kordofan. While returns to South Kordofan and Unity states are relatively straightforward, it's a big trip to get people from Khartoum to Northern Bahr el-Ghazal or to Lakes State or to Warrap.
"We have to ensure sustainable returns and that's all about making sure that we do not send back too many people to locations that cannot manage them. There are big challenges for reintegration to make sure that those who have been sent back are able to be integrated into the communities where they have returned. The bottom line is that we can't make the situation worse, we have to make it a little better for those who are already there and those who are coming back," said Duggan.
She said resources were needed to set up social services, help returnees establish livelihoods and ease their integration.
"We have to remember that reintegration won't happen in a year. It's a long-term commitment for the international community to ensure that resources are there so that services can really be built. The south was decimated by war; every sector was decimated, so we can't expect miracles in the next year. It's going to require a sustained commitment from the international community," Duggan added.
GOSS is keen for people to return in time for upcoming parliamentary elections as well as for the referendum in 2011, when southerners will be required to vote on whether to remain part of Sudan or become an independent state.
"The international community has a once-in-a-generation opportunity to do something positive to establish a basis for a stable society in southern Sudan before 2011," said Ted Chaiban, a representative in Sudan of the UN Children's Fund. He called for more financial support for basic social services in the south.