Airlift of 12 000 South Sudanese ends

2012-06-06 17:13

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Khartoum - An "exceptional" airlift of almost 12 000 South Sudanese ended with a final flight from Khartoum on Wednesday but thousands more continue to live in makeshift conditions while they, too, await transport to the South, officials said.

One hundred Southerners took the last chartered plane from Khartoum to South Sudan's capital Juba at 10:00 GMT, said Jill Helke, chief of the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) in Sudan.

"With the 100 people who fly today, we will have moved 11 840 people in 24 days on 79 flights," she told a ceremony at the airport before the departure.

"It is a remarkable feat."

The IOM began more than three weeks ago flying out Southerners, whom local authorities ordered to leave the Kosti way-station, 300km from Khartoum.

Kosti became home to the biggest single concentration of South Sudanese needing transport to South Sudan, which became independent last July. Many in Kosti lived in makeshift shelters or barn-like buildings for up to a year, dependent on foreign aid.

The governor of the area declared the migrants a threat to security and the environment, and ordered them out by 5 May, sparking concern from the United Nations and the IOM.

Officials extended the deadline to 20 May but then told the IOM to disregard the time-limit after plans for the airlift were devised.

Helke said the flights - up to four a day - were "an exceptional operation to respond to an exceptional set of circumstances".

Departure points

The UN refugee agency said on Tuesday that an increasing number of South Sudanese - some hoping for an operation similar to the Kosti airlift - are living in crude shelters in Khartoum.

Estimates from community leaders say that up to 38 000 South Sudanese are now staying in so-called "departure points" around the city, said Philippa Candler, assistant representative for protection with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) office in Sudan.

Helke said the airlift "has raised expectations" among other South Sudanese who have endured long waits for transport to the South, but IOM donor funds have virtually run out.

South Sudan's ambassador Kau Nak told the ceremony there are still 170 000 of his countrymen in Khartoum following an 8 April deadline to either formalise their status in the north or leave the country.

Many have spent their entire lives in the north or came to Sudan when they were children, as millions fled a 22-year civil war. The war ended in a 2005 peace deal which led to South Sudan's independence.

"I was born here," Wani Matthew, 24, told AFP as he waited for his first aircraft ride to a land he has never seen.

While officials in the airport lounge rose one after another from plush chairs to address the departure ceremony, Matthew sat reading Biblical verses from the book of Proverbs.

He said he and his mother spent the past nine months living in a tent in Kosti, after she lost her job as a government cleaner and he quit his economics studies in Gezira state.

All ethnic Southerners were dismissed from Sudan's civil service ahead of the South's independence.

Matthew said he plans to resume his studies in the impoverished South, where his siblings moved about three years ago.

Going home

"I called to my little brother and he said to me: 'Come, come'."

His mother will follow in two days on a government-organised luggage truck.

Hundreds of thousands have already preceded them, making their way from Sudan to South Sudan before the separation or in subsequent months.

Most of the Southerners in Kosti did not have their own means to arrange transport, said the IOM, which had planned to move thousands of them by barge until Sudan's military expressed security concerns.

In March and April, Sudan and South Sudan fought a border war, raising fears of wider conflict.

At that time, many Southerners asked their embassy for travel documents and moved to the departure points, Nak told AFP.

"If things calm down the situation will change," he said, adding much now depends on talks on unresolved issues between Khartoum and Juba, which began in the Ethiopian capital last week for the first time since the fighting.

The international community is saying "the two governments need to sit down and really form a plan", not only about moving the South Sudanese but also for legalising the presence of those who wish to stay in Sudan, Helke told AFP.

Read more on:    sudan  |  south sudan  |  east africa

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