Thousands of Southern Sudanese risk being caught in a humanitarian crisis because the Governments of Sudan and South Sudan have failed to take responsibility for their own people, Minister Stephen O’Brien warned today after visiting a transit camp where families are stuck north of the border.
More than 700,000 southerners living in Sudan lost their Sudanese nationality at the time of secession and were given nine months to ‘regularise their status’.
But as the half way mark of that deadline approaches, neither Sudan nor South Sudan have decided what that means in practice.
Amid the confusion, thousands of people are desperate to make their way to the South. More than 12,000 are stranded in the town of Kosti waiting for safe passage across the border, with thousands more waiting in Khartoum for help.
Having abandoned their homes, jobs and all but the belongings they can carry, they have travelled hundreds of miles to build a new life in Africa’s newest nation.
They have been forced to live in makeshift shelters with little access to food and water as they wait an average of 108 days for a barge to take them down the Nile, the only safe route to South Sudan.
Barge numbers are limited because there is only one company that supplies boats which can transport southerners on the long journey in a humane way - with toilets, water and medical supplies on board.
This has put intense strain on water, sanitation and health provisions as the transit camp was originally intended for just 1,600 individuals and up to 200 people continue to arrive every week.
At current rates, it is logistically impossible to transport the estimated 300,000 southerners who will wish to go to South Sudan there before the April deadline as it took 12 months for 350,000 to return between October 2010 and 2011.
After visiting Kosti, International Development Minister Stephen O’Brien said:
“What I saw in Kosti was the very real human face of the ongoing problems between Sudan and South Sudan.
“I met some very dedicated community leaders doing fantastic work to help people who have been stranded for up to four months - but the numbers of those in need continue to rise.
“Many have given up their homes and jobs to start a new life in South Sudan. They have been waiting for months with little money, food and shelter, and are using their precious savings, if they had any at all, to provide for their families’ basic needs.
“Britain is working as part of the international effort to keep these people safe. But it is crucial that the Governments of both Sudan and South Sudan work together to remove artificial deadlines and give clarity to all those who are unsure about their status.”
Mr O’Brien urged the two governments to help end the suffering of their own people and urgently agree flexible arrangements for citizenship that allow free movement between their two countries.
“It is critical that they find ways forward on this, and other outstanding issues, to enable Sudanese and South Sudanese alike to move forward with their lives and contribute to the establishment of two peaceful and prosperous nations. The UK will continue to support Sudan and South Sudan as they do so.”