Hope and despair greet South Sudan returnees

Al Jazeera speaks to some repatriated from Khartoum to begin a new life in the world’s youngest country.

Juba, South SudanWhen South Sudan split from its neighbour Sudan in July last year, hundreds of thousands of ethnic South Sudanese suddenly found themselves foreigners in another country. Many of these people have been trying to make their way to the South since then.

On May 14, the international community began a humanitarian airlift from Khartoum, bringing thousands of South Sudanese people to their new capital, Juba. Over a planned period of two weeks, the International Organisation for Migration will be flying an estimated 12,000 people to their new home. 

Despite being South Sudanese, many of these people have never been to South Sudan and do not know anyone in the country. They now have to make new lives for themselves in challenging circumstances – few of them, for example, speak English, the South Sudanese national language.

The returnees are being accommodated at a UNHCR way station in Juba before being transferred to more permanent places of settlement around the country. Many of them had become stranded in Sudan when they tried to make their way south of the border, and have arrived in Juba without the bulk of their possessions. 

It is under these conditions that tens of thousands of South Sudanese returnees will begin their new lives in the world’s youngest country.

Aluak Mantong, 50

Aluak Mantong [Anna Cavell/Al Jazeera]

When I lived in Khartoum, I owned a house and had savings in cash. But on April 9, everything was taken from me by militia. Now I have nothing. But I’m a trained midwife, so I hope I will be able to find work here and make a living in South Sudan. 

“I’m sick and I’ve been sick for a long time but I hope my health will improve now that I am here.

“I am happy to be in the South. I have family here and it’s my home. I have to live in Juba for now but in the future I hope to join my family in Aweil and begin my life again.”

Yiey Deng, 19

Yiey Deng [Anna Cavell/Al Jazeera]

I was born in Khartoum and I went to school there, but I never felt it was my home. I always wanted to come and live in the South. This is my real country and I’m happy now that I’m here.

“I won’t stay long in Juba as I don’t know anyone here, but soon I hope to be able to travel to Wau, where I have family.

“It will be hard to begin with and I think finding work will be difficult as I don’t have any qualifications. But I’m prepared to do anything, so I am optimistic things will turn out well.”

Teresa Andrea, 16

Teresa Andrea [Anna Cavell/Al Jazeera]

I arrived in Juba on May 16, but this place isn’t good for us and we want to leave. We have family in Aweil so perhaps we will go there soon.

“In Khartoum I used to go to school and I want to continue my studies in the South, but I don’t know if it will be possible. Perhaps when I get to the place where my family is from I will be able to rejoin school.

“When I finish my studies I would like to be a teacher, but I don’t know if the opportunity will be there for me in South Sudan. I liked living in the north but this is my home now.” 

Nane Hannes Ibrahim, 29

Nane Hannes Ibrahim [Anna Cavell/Al Jazeera]

I have three children but I had to leave them behind in Khartoum as I couldn not afford to bring them here with me. They are staying with my mother and I hope they will come soon by plane and join me. I need to find work first and when I have some money I will send for them.

“In Khartoum I was a businesswoman – I made money by making and selling alcohol, and I think I’ll have to do the same here. As I don’t speak English, I won’t be able to get a better job.

“I think my life here in the South will be good but in the beginning I’m expecting it to be hard.”

Paulo Jam Atem Atem, 33

Paulo Jam Atem Atem [Anna Cavell/Al Jazeera]

“I was still a student at school in Khartoum and I haven’t finished my studies yet, so I am hoping I can continue in South Sudan. I will be sent to live in Warrap state as that’s where my family is from, but if I can’t go to school there I will return to Juba or anywhere else I can go to school. 

“If I manage to complete my studies, I want to work in construction and I hope to be an engineer. There’s a lot of building happening in Juba so I hope there will be work for me when I’m qualified. 

“I don’t want there to be war between the two countries. I want there to be peace because I have family in the North. However, if the North decides that it wants war then I am ready to fight to defend myself and my country.”

Source: Al Jazeera