We recently received a letter from Sister Guadalupe Castillo dated 30th April 2012. Sister Guadalupe works for the Comboni Sisters and is based in Khartoum, Sudan. When we were supporting projects in and around Khartoum we worked closely with Sister Guadalupe and her colleagues.
We would like to share with you what she wrote to us about the current situation in the town of Kosti (Sudan), a major junction for rail and shipping transport. It is here that thousands of South Sudanese are waiting for transport to leave Sudan and return to South Sudan.
"The situation in the port way station and at the railway way station in Kosti continues to be uncertain. An estimate of 12,000 people is still waiting along the river and around 4,000 are at the railway station camp.
The last trip by river was in December 2011 and since then neither the commercial nor the repatriation barges are operating. At the railway station, a train left for Awil and Wau [in South Sudan] in February six months after the previous one. In the past months many returnees have been diverted to proceed to Renk by road. Many families in the port way station are stating to contemplate joining hands as two or three families to hire trucks to take them and their belongings to Renk.
Currently the possibility of traveling to Renk is there but not appealling to many who are still waiting for their dues and gratuities after decades of work in the Sudan, this is because coming back is not guaranteed for South Sudanese citizens. Many people stay waiting for their gratuities.
Traveling to Renk by road for commuters as well as for the trucks carrying belongings proves to be an adventure; many end up saying it depends on one’s luck. There are a number of road blocks in which searching take place, taxes are to be paid especially for new things. There is a fear among the returnees that abduction especially of young men could take place on their way to the south by road.
Among the many other reasons it can be stated that, the long halt of transport to the south is closely linked to the rapidly fluctuating relations between South Sudan and Sudan.
The returnees' hopes were raised when loading of barges resumed in mid March 2012, seven barges were loaded but to date they have not set off for the south almost a month after the loading started. The hope created that 12,000 will be ferried home in a matter of a month seems to be fading away.
With the increase of uncertainties and tensions many families are now selling off their precious items and belongings at a throw away price, wheel carts pulled by donkeys, bicycles and pick up cars full of goods bought at the port is a common feature leaving the port. The end of transitional period poses more challenges in terms of returnees' movement and permanency in the Sudan, how can their status be defined? What kind of identification or documents do they need? From whom can they seek protection?
The authorities of White Nile States have set May the 20th as the deadline for the returnees to get out of Port and Railway station camps. It is still not clear what this deadline entails and which parties can be involved to ensure the safety of the people. From the last week of April, the NGO's offering their services for the returnees are busy terminating their contracts, at present only the FAR clinic is operating."