Global Policy Forum

Sudan: Uncertainty, Fear Among Southerners in North


The renewed hostilities between the governments of North and South Sudan have made it unlikely that there will be large scale returns of Southern Sudanese persons living in Northern Sudan following independence on July 9.Southerners currently in the North are concerned about their legal status, especially because many are living in camps with no access to humanitarian aid unlike registered internally displaced people. The government of the North has also indicated that there will be no opportunities for dual citizenship for Southerners, making their legal status even more dubious.

June 9, 2011

A month from now, millions of people in Southern Sudan will celebrate their first day of independence. But many thousands of Southerners still stuck in the North are likely to miss the party.

Promises of relocation assistance from the Government of Southern Sudan (GOSS) have for many turned out to be empty. An escalation of hostilities between North and South - in Abyei and then in Southern Kordofan, further reduces the likelihood of renewed large-scale returns any time soon.

And as the North embarks on the mammoth task of compiling a register of all citizens, it is not clear whether this will include people of Southern origin, or what their status in the North will be.

“It is an outstanding issue. The two parties [governments of North and South] have to find an agreement now. The clock is ticking. This issue could affect human rights,” UN human rights envoy Mohamed Chande Othman told reporters in Khartoum on 8 June.

According to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), 302,724 Southern Sudanese who had settled in the North have already left for the South. Another 20,000 are ready to go and are waiting in one or other of the 12 official departure sites in Khartoum.

Some 1.5-2 million Southern Sudanese migrated to the North, mainly during the latest phase of civil war (1983-2005), and hundreds of thousands of them could be in limbo after 9 July, the official secession date.


Nimer Tabash Fatima lives in a makeshift shelter made of cloth, tarpaulin and pieces of wood in Mayo, one of the 12 sites on the outskirts of Khartoum.

“I have been living here since December. I sold my house and all my belongings. I registered on the list to leave. Since then, I am waiting and I am angry about waiting. The children are not going to school any more because the authorities don’t want to register them.”

Hundreds of families are similarly camped out in Mayo amid piles of mattresses, chairs, and trunks of clothes. Having left not only homes but also jobs, many have no source of income.

Unlike registered internally displaced people, they have no access to humanitarian aid: in line with an agreement with the Southern Sudan Relief and Rehabilitation Commission, the World Food Programme (WFP) does not distribute rations in these places of departure "to avoid the creation of transitional camps", said Amor Almagro, WFP spokesman in Khartoum.

“Right now, I can’t say when those registered will be able to leave. It is not only up to us. The Northern government has to organize security for the transport,” said Gatwech Kulang, head of repatriation in GOSS, reached by telephone.

Uncertain future

Speaking in late May, President Omar al-Bashir warned that, after secession “there will be no dual nationality for Southerners. But there will be a transitional period where they could regularize their situation, otherwise they will be expelled to the South.”

For Gordon Push, whose Southern origins are etched into his face in the form of scars typical of the Nuer ethnic group and who lives in the quiet Al Girif East district of Khartoum, these were worrying words.

“If we are still there on 10 July we will suffer,” he told IRIN. “My neighbour, Ibrahim, who is a friend of mine, warned me: `You should go quickly’”.

Even the UN is feeling its way on this issue: “We don’t know what will happen with the Southeners in Khartoum after independence. But we are working closely with the different authorities on the issue,” said Carole Sparks, head of UNHCR’s protection department in Khartoum.

Southern Sudanese in Khartoum fear being physically attacked, said John Dindi, a priest at St Matthew's Cathedral. “What makes them more afraid is not knowing whether the government will protect them if the Northeners harass them. If it happens, it won’t be in Khartoum but I guess more in rural areas.”


Some “Southerners” who were born in the North appear sceptical that the nascent Republic of South Sudan will turn out to be the promised land that so many are counting on.

“I will live over there with my parents because it is there that my family and my tribe are from,” said Khartoum-born Florence, whose family originate in the Southern State of Western Bahr al-Ghazal. “But I like living in a city; we can find anything and it is cheaper than in the South.”

Some of those who did migrate southwards found conditions there so arduous or discovered that their land had been taken over during their absence, that they returned to the North. One NGO, Fellowship for African Relief, said it thought some 500 families had doubled back in this way. But the accurate figures are difficult to come by because GOSS’s aversion to such returns to the North mean they often take place in secret.

William Domazo, secretary at St Matthew’s Cathedral in Khartoum, said of one such returnee: “She left in December with her two children to Malakal [capital of Upper Nile State], the land of her parents. A few days after she arrived, she saw soldiers from SPLA [South Sudan army] hitting people from her Nuer community. She was scared. She came back to Khartoum with her younger daughter. She told me that she’s got a nice house here and that she is safe.”


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