International Rescue Committee (IRC)

IRC provides urgent medical care as thousands of Southern Sudanese return home ahead of referendum

The International Rescue Committee is delivering medical care to thousands of Southern Sudanese who have been streaming into camps in the border state of Northern Bahr el Ghazal ahead of tomorrow’s pivotal referendum on self-determination.

Thousands of people have been arriving in the region from the North every day.  This morning in the space of one hour, IRC teams in the state’s capital Aweil counted 17 buses that had just arrived from the North.  Many of the returning families are settling in local communities or making their way to their home villages.  However, the majority, who have little means to care for themselves,  are heading to makeshift camps that lack sufficient water for their basic needs and have dangerously few latrines.

The IRC has started providing essential medical assistance in three of these temporary settlements: Wanjok, where some 6,000 people are sheltering; Maduany, temporary home for 8,000 people; and Jaac, where another 5,000 found refuge from border violence in November.  The IRC will also be providing health services in a fourth settlement, Manyiel, where thousands more people are expected to arrive on Tuesday. 

In Maduany, IRC mobile health teams working in a makeshift clinic built of reeds are treating up to 120 patients a day, mainly for malaria, diarrhea and respiratory infections. The situation is similar in the other settlements. In addition to the clinics operating in established camps, the IRC has mobile clinics that can be deployed to other locations at a moment’s notice to help the most serious cases -- such as in Apada Camp where newly arrived children are suffering from diarrhea and vomiting.

“Conditions are deteriorating and needs are growing every day as more Sudanese returnees arrive in towns and villages already stretched to capacity because they are not turning away anyone seeking shelter,” said Susan Purdin, who oversees the IRC’s humanitarian aid programs in Southern Sudan. “The lack of sanitation and water boreholes in the camps is likely to make the situation more acute as thousands more return to the South.”

In the past three months, an estimated 143,000 Sudanese have returned from the North.  They join hundreds of thousands of others who were displaced during the 22-year North-South war and gradually returned home after the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in 2005.

“While the entire world focuses on the referendum on self-determination, we are seeing an existing humanitarian emergency grow rapidly worse and overwhelm local capacity,” said Purdin. “The government of Southern Sudan needs all the help and support possible to ensure that lives are not lost to preventable and treatable diseases -- and that the many thousands of people who are coming home have access to health care, water, shelter, food and security. We are doing all we can to assist.”

Learn more about the IRC's work in Southern Sudan and how you can help >>