March 22 2012

South Sudan prepares to welcome their children home

22/03/2012 - The Government of Sudan has ordered all Southern Sudanese to formalise their positions in the north or to return to South Sudan. As the April 8 deadline approaches the authorities, and SOS Children's Villages East Africa, are preparing for an influx of children.

Photo: REUTERS/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah,
Refugee children in Sudan wait for their repatriation to South Sudan - Photo: REUTERS/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah
In February this year the Governments of Sudan and South Sudan signed a Memorandum of Understanding regarding people displaced by what was said to be Africa’s longest civil war, which ended in 2005. At that time the peace agreement between the north and south of Sudan reconciled the two vast regions, but a 2011 referendum in the south of Sudan was almost unanimous in voting to secede from the state of Sudan. In July 2011 the state of South Sudan was formed, consisting mainly of Christian and animist people, as compared to the Muslim north.

While Africa’s newest state was able to offer protection to its population it could not protect those Southerners who had been displaced during the war, either as refugees or child soldiers. Many of them ended up in Khartoum, in refugee camps or informal settlements and are still there, even after the secession of South Sudan. However the Government of Sudan has given them until 8 April 2012 to either formalise their status in the north or move back to the south.

Malakal faces same problems

Photo: Hilary Atkins
Conditions in the rescue centre for street children in Malakal, where these boys are cared for, are harsh - Photo: Hilary Atkins
The state government in Malakal is preparing for a similar influx of adults and children. For the last two years a rescue centre in Malakal has catered for about 75 street children, all boys. The resources are limited: there is no bedding, the latrines are disintegrating and supervision is intermittent. But there is space for extra shelters within the compound. The village director of SOS Children’s Village Malakal, Akwoch Ayang, has been told to expect 200 children in Malakal for whom SOS Children’s Villages will take initial responsibility, but he is afraid the final number will be more. “If they stay in the north”, Mr Ayang says, “they will face many dangers.”

In both Juba and Malakal SOS Children’s Villages will offer shelter, care and psychosocial support to children up to the age of 12, and, to prevent the separation of families, to older siblings if necessary. SOS Children’s Villages will also establish child-friendly spaces in each rescue centre, equipped with recreational and learning materials administered according to age groups. In the rescue centre in Malakal SOS Children’s Villages has also undertaken to repair the dilapidated infrastructure, such as the latrines.

The rains are the next problem. They are due to start in April and should continue for five months. There is only one tarred road in the whole of Malakal and most dirt roads are bordered by metre high trenches to allow for overflows, so conditions will be difficult once the rain hits the sticky black soil. As far as Mr Ayang is concerned, the sooner the preparations are made the better.

SOS Children’s Villages will work with the United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN-OCHA) and UNICEF in the registration, identification and tracing of families to ensure smooth reintegration of children with their families. Should the need arise and families cannot be traced, or are unable to take care of the children, SOS Children’s Villages will consider taking young children into the SOS Children’s Village Malakal.