accessibility & help

South Sudan Red Cross responds to returnee crisis

6 July 2012

As South Sudan celebrates one year of independence on 9 July, the new South Sudan Red Cross is busy supporting thousands of people returning from Sudan.

For many people the return is not easy, as they are vulnerable to heat exhaustion and disease outbreaks. As they arrive in South Sudan it is difficult to find adequate housing, and access to food, sanitation and health care is poor.

This week, the British Red Cross released £70,000 from its Disaster Fund to support the South Sudan Red Cross in providing water, sanitation and relief items, as well as providing training in first aid.

A challenging return to South Sudan

Between October 2010 and May 2012, more than 387,000 people originating from South Sudan crossed the border from the north. It is estimated that up to 500,000 people who’ve been living in the north for the last 20-30 years may choose or be forced to return to the south.

In May, the Sudanese government announced that ethnic South Sudanese should formalise their citizenship in the north or leave imminently, prompting even more people to cross the border.

Around 12,000 southerners, stranded in Kosti and no longer welcome in Sudan, had been struggling to get back to their new country for about a year due to ongoing fighting and lack of transportation.

As a result of negotiations between the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) and the governments of South Sudan and Sudan, 11,813 people from Kosti were recently airlifted to Juba, the capital of South Sudan. They are now being hosted at a camp in Kapuri, near Juba.

Urgent needs

Many returnees have the means, or relatives who can help them, to manage in South Sudan. However, others are without even basic means for survival and in urgent need of assistance.

Population movement increases the risk of epidemic diseases, such as measles, diarrhoea and HIV. Returnees are also putting pressure on already limited resources and people lack basic services such as health care, water, sanitation and education. Due to its fledgling status the government of South Sudan is not currently in a position to provide these basic services.

Volunteers from the South Sudan Red Cross are helping at the IOM camp by putting up tents and distributing essential household items, as well as providing immunisations, basic first aid and tracing services for people who’ve lost touch with their families.

Stranded in transit camp

Elisa Ekanga, who arrived in Kapuri with her two children, said: “Ever since independence we have wanted to go to South Sudan. In Kosti the situation was difficult. Security was bad, children were kidnapped, and we thought that we would never reach Juba.”

Elisa’s husband is still in Kosti with most of their belongings as she was only allowed to bring one piece of luggage on the plane. Although Kapuri is a transit camp, Elisa says she will stay put until her husband arrives, which could take weeks or months. Once he is here she wants to go to Torit, from where she fled fighting in 1987.

“Right now I feel stranded,” Elisa says. “I don’t know whether I have any relatives left in Torit. And I have no money to start a new life.”

British Red Cross support

In its first year, the South Sudan Red Cross has worked hard to build its ability to prepare for and respond to crises.

Karen Peachey, British Red Cross representative in east Africa, said: “The new country has some of the worst health and social development indicators in the world and its infrastructure is poor after many years of conflict and under-investment. For the new South Sudan Red Cross a big challenge is scaling up to respond to the country’s massive humanitarian needs.

“The British Red Cross is supporting development of the new organisation. Among other things, this involves helping establish organisational structures and a human resources system.

“As we have seen all around the world, in the long run a strong national Red Cross is best placed to respond to its country’s humanitarian needs – so the importance of investing in its development shouldn’t be underestimated.”

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