South Sudan: Tens of Thousands of Refugees Return Home

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By Joe Odaby

Juba, South Sudan — August 14, 2013 (SSN) … Aid agencies are now reporting that some sixty thousand (60,000) returnees displaced from Abyei region by the May 2011 Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) invasion have already returned home ahead of the much anticipated referendum exercise scheduled for October this year.

An Abyei return tracking report for June and July this year showed that about 16,000 people have been verified as having returned to Abyei since June 2012. While the verification process did not capture returns in and around Agok in the south of the Abyei area, food partners monthly registration records reportedly suggest that another between 5,000 and 8,000 people have returned and settled in Agok, an areas known to many as Annet.

“Overall, partners estimate that up to 60,000 of the over 100,000 people displaced from Abyei in May 2011 have returned” the United Nation’s weekly bulletin reported. According to the verification report, there are around 3,500 people living in Abyei town.

Aid organizations are said to be responding to the needs of those who have returned to their homes, including by providing communities with seeds, tools and non-food items to “strengthen their resilience”.

Although a number of schools in Abyei town have been rehabilitated, school enrollment, education partners say is much lower than anticipated.

Since 2003, over 2.3 million Darfuris have fled their homes, including nearly 300,000 as refugees in Chad. Thousands of children born in these camps have never known another home.

And the cycle of violence continues. In the first four months of 2013, over five times as many people had been displaced than in all of 2012. In one week alone in April 2013, some 50,000 Darfuris fled into southeastern Chad following fresh ethnic conflict. The refugees reported entire villages being burned and razed with many villagers killed.

In South Kordofan and Blue Nile, indiscriminate aerial bombardments are Sudan’s devastating signature tactic. Bombs destroy residential areas, schools and markets, health clinics and farm fields.

Civilians have no warning of these attacks and flee for protection to caves in nearby mountains or to the bush. Children go without school, and villages are emptied of their people. The air strikes, combined with scorched-earth attacks and deliberate obstruction of humanitarian aid, have led to chronic hunger and conditions conducive to famine.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has stated the human rights violations by Sudan rise to the level of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Sudan’s campaigns of armed conflict and deliberate denial of humanitarian aid combined with the prevention of South Sudanese oil exports continue to devastate entire communities and regions.

Three US administrations, have dedicated political capital, time, and resources to the region. But the Obama administration is neglecting South Sudan with the lack of a high-profile Special Envoy, to facilitate comprehensive peace, democratic transformation, and real accountability in Sudan.

But despite Sudan’s hostile positions and an apparent lack of effort by the US White House to provide real solutions to the oil export crisis that transcends criticism, aid organizations are continuing to save lives.

Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in South Sudan says that they are continuing to respond to the needs of refugees in Upper Nile State.

About 220 new arrivals from South Kordofan were registered in Lelo and some 360 individuals in Kodok. The majority of the refugees registered in Kodok are reportedly children and women.

According to partners, the status of this group is yet to be determined but aid agencies have begun to respond to the most pressing needs for food, health care and household items.

Partners also vaccinated children and women in Lelo and Kodok, and provided additional medical and nutritional supplies and referrals of severe cases.