International Rescue Committee (IRC)

Two years after independence thousands of returnees still haven’t found home in South Sudan

08 Jul 2013 - 
On the second anniversary of South Sudan’s independence (Tuesday, July 9) tens of thousands of returnees are still living in temporary settlements, including 18,860 in semi-official transit sites, without access to land, proper health care and sanitation. Recent budget cuts for programs helping reintegrate returnees are exacerbating the problem, says the International Rescue Committee (IRC).
 
Nearly a million people returned in 2010 and 2011 during the run-up to the creation of the world’s newest country and an additional 198,000 people returned to South Sudan between January 2012 and May 2013. 
 
Thousands have returned to find their former homes or farmland occupied. Many of those unable to reclaim ancestral land or live with relatives have been forced to reside in temporary settlements at transit sites, originally intended for short stopovers for families returning from the north. Despite the lack of health and sufficient sanitation facilities, many transit sites have become overcrowded semi-permanent settlements for people with nowhere else to go.
 
While the South Sudanese government has guaranteed land for all returnees, the legal framework and procedures for land allocation are unclear and poorly understood. Further complicating the issue, many returnees do not have  documentation proving ownership.
 
The IRC says secure land ownership is central to the ability of returnees to reintegrate into South Sudanese society. “Being able to make productive use of land, hold cattle and start farming is key to returnees feeling safe and secure,” says Wendy Taeuber, who runs IRC’s operations in South Sudan. “This situation of secondary displacement and the lack of basic services for returnees is leading to a failure of reintegration, which will increase the likelihood of conflict between returnee and host populations.”  
 
Few returnees have a valid national ID card, which means they face discrimination and lack of access to basic health and education services. Particularly vulnerable to discrimination are female-headed households, which make up 50 per cent of all returnee families.
 
The IRC provides returning South Sudanese with training on their rights as citizens and helps them access services. However, funding for returnees has been dramatically reduced because of  competing priorities, including the refugee influx from Sudan’s border states of South Kordofan and Blue Nile as well as refugee crises elsewhere in the world.
 
“It is crucial that donors, the government of South Sudan and humanitarian agencies continue to support returnees,” says Taeuber. “Unfortunately, as the number of returnees has slowed, funding is drying up. Meanwhile there are thousands who still need assistance and who have never completely reintegrated. If and when they do receive assistance, it is often temporary or one off and does not result in full integration in the community.” 
 
The IRC says the re-establishment of funding is needed to support the government of South Sudan’s continuing efforts at reintegration and to recognize the reality that reintegration is necessary for longer term peace. 
 
NOTE TO EDITORS: For more information and interviews in Juba, Nairobi, New York and London, please contact Vanessa Parra, +1-646-318-7307 or Paul Donohoe, +44 (0)20 7692 2739.
 
About the International Rescue Committee: A global leader in humanitarian assistance for 80 years, the International Rescue Committee responds to the world’s worst crises and helps refugees and others uprooted by violent conflict, disaster and persecution to survive and rebuild their lives. At work in more than 40 countries and 22 US cities, the IRC works to restore safety, hope, opportunity and dignity. 
 
The IRC has been one of the largest providers of aid in South Sudan for over 20 years. Today we provide more than 700,000 people in four states—Central Equatoria, Northern Bahr el Ghazal, Unity and Lakes—with vital services including healthcare, child survival programs, environmental health, protection and sexual violence prevention and response projects. For more information, visit www.rescue.org.