One of the major unresolved issues from South Sudan’s split from Khartoum has been the citizenship status of Sudanese of southern origin living in the north, and those of northern origin living in the south. Optimists had hoped that the citizenship issue would be amicably resolved and that most people involved would stay in place.
Alas, in the context of the increasingly bitter divorce between Khartoum and Juba, it looks like a folk migration of southern Sudanese back to the south is underway. When South Sudan voted for independence, Khartoum revoked the citizenship of all South Sudanese. In response to concern voiced by the international community, Khartoum allowed a nine-month grace period, which ended in April, for South Sudanese living in the north. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) on May 8 stated that 376,226 people have returned home since October 2010. It estimates that half a million South Sudanese remain in Sudan.
Of these, up to fifteen thousand have been stranded in Kosti waiting for barges to take them down the Nile to South Sudan. According to the press, Khartoum is saying they are stranded because the Juba government has diverted the barges for military use. IOM’s response is to return the refugees to Khartoum and then fly them to Juba. IOM negotiated the necessary arrangements with the local authorities and with Juba. On May 14, the flights started, with four hundred people arriving in Juba. The belongings of the returnees are being transported by road, according to the Juba ministry of information. Each returnee is restricted to twenty kilograms of baggage.
IOM is moving the refugees from Kosti to its Khartoum transit camp by bus. At the camp, IOM provides medical checks and prepares the manifests. It then flies the refugees to Juba, where they are housed in a camp operated by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. According to the press, after the returnees arrive in Juba, they will be dispersed to their place of origin.
This episode illustrates the crucial role of IOM, an international organization headquartered in Geneva, in large refugee movements. With 146 member states, and 98 observers, it spent US$1.3 billion in 2011. Its funding comes primarily from member states.