IOM Accelerates Evacuation of Stranded South Sudanese Returnees Following Border Clashes
4/24/2012 11:30:05 AM -
GENEVA, Switzerland, April 24, 2012/African Press Organization (APO)/ -- An IOM-organized river barge convoy carrying 1,708 stranded South Sudanese returnees departed yesterday (23/4) from the Upper Nile border town of Renk for Juba, the capital of South Sudan. The convoy is made up of three passenger barges and four luggage barges.
IOM is speeding up the evacuation of returnees from Renk, organizing barge and road convoys to Malakal and Juba, as sporadic fighting in border areas between Sudanese and South Sudanese forces continues.
Most of the returnees have been stranded at Renk for many months after arriving from the Sudan. The majority are travelling to the greater Bahr el Ghazal region. Others are travelling to the capital, Juba and beyond. They will all be provided with transportation assistance by IOM to reach their final destination.
This is the fourth barge convoy organized from Renk since June 2011. IOM has provided transportation assistance to over 12,000 stranded returnees in South Sudan the last year, bringing the total number of individuals that have received transportation assistance to over 22,000.
The rainy season has now begun and access to Renk will be further complicated as roads further south become impassable. IOM is concerned that the escalation in fighting may spread to Upper Nile State, where skirmishes already occur on a regular basis.
The operational constraints in handling these movements have significantly increased as there is a shortage of barges and other transport assets, a scarcity of fuel, and a shortage of goods and materials since the border with Sudan has been closed to commercial trade.
IOM worked closely with the UN Mission in Malakal to secure fuel for this barge movement. These shortages impede assistance and delay the organization of the movements, which can lead to protracted displacement in temporary transit sites.
IOM is also providing return assistance to a group of 1,300 South Sudanese who left Khartoum in late March in a convoy and became stranded in the town of Heglig, before being re-routed towards Renk.
The situation of the group was of concern to the humanitarian community and efforts are underway to relocate the group by road to Malakal and by air to Aweil and Kuajok in Northern and Western Bahr el Ghazal State. An IOM-organized convoy of buses departed Renk yesterday and arrived in Malakal this morning carrying the first of 650 returnees.
The group will remain in Malakal until they are cleared to fly. IOM and humanitarian partners are establishing a transit site, located on the outskirts of the town, with capacity to accommodate up to 30,000 stranded returnees.
IOM is currently constructing emergency latrine facilities for over 1,000 returnees and has secured water tankers for the distribution of safe drinking water.
IOM responded to the recent bombing of civilians in Bentiu (Unity State), by organizing an airlift of emergency medical supplies to Bentiu Hospital. It organized three flights to transport just under three tons of emergency medical supplies (donated by WHO.) On the return journey, the planes airlifted patients injured during the bombing from Bentiu hospital to Juba, where they have received treatment at Juba Teaching Hospital.
Heglig, the scene of recent clashes, is only 60km east of the disputed area of Abyei. IOM continues to monitor the increasingly tense situation in Abyei. Fighting in May 2011 resulted in the displacement of over 100,000 people in the area into South Sudan.
IOM responded by providing emergency medical assistance, distributing non-food relief items and emergency shelter materials, and by constructing latrines and providing safe drinking water in temporary settlement areas.
In October 2011, towards the end of the rainy season, IOM tracking and monitoring teams noted a marked increase in the number of displaced communities returning to Agok.
IOM is concerned about the increasing tensions between Sudan and South Sudan and its impact on populations in border areas, migratory groups, and returnees who became stranded on their way home. Increased insecurity in border areas limits the ability of humanitarian organizations to provide direct assistance to affected communities within conflict zones.