Airlift of S Sudanese to end this week

2012-06-04 11:28

Khartoum - The last flight in an airlift of about 12 000 ethnic South Sudanese, ordered to leave by local authorities in Sudan, is to take off this week, the International Organisation for Migration said on Monday.

The IOM began more than three weeks ago the charter flights to transport Southerners who had been staying at the Kosti way-station 300km from Khartoum.

Kosti became home to the biggest single concentration of South Sudanese needing transport South, with many living in makeshift shelters or barn-like buildings for up to a year, and dependent on foreign aid.

The governor of the Kosti area declared the migrants a threat to security and the environment and ordered them out by 05 May, sparking concern from the United Nations and the IOM which has already helped thousands of South Sudanese head to South Sudan, which became independent last July.

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

"This is very exceptional," said Jill Helke, the IOM's chief of mission in Sudan. "We only stepped in to do this by air because of the urgency" of moving people told to leave who had been already waiting for months.

As of Monday morning, 11 020 people had flown out on 73 flights.

Two more planes were to leave for the South Sudanese capital Juba on Monday followed by another Tuesday and the last one on Wednesday, Helke said, adding the airlift had gone "remarkably well" considering it is the season for dust storms.

Wider conflict

About 900 people in Kosti are still registered for the airlift but Helke told AFP they are not all expected to travel. An unknown number managed to arrange truck transport to South Sudan by themselves.

The South Sudanese in Kosti were among about 350 000 ethnic Southerners who the South Sudanese embassy estimated remained in the north after an 08 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.

Hundreds of thousands made their way from Sudan to South Sudan ahead of the separation or in subsequent months.

Most of the Southerners in Kosti did not have their own means to arrange transportation, said the IOM, which 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 a wider conflict amid a climate of heightened nationalism in the north.

A UN Security Council resolution on 02 May ordered both sides to cease hostilities and resume negotiations on unresolved issues including the status of each country's nationals in the other country.