One of the least discussed aspects of the impending dissolution of Sudan on Saturday is the status of southern Sudanese who are living in the North.
Several thousand southerners live in the North. In the months leading up to Sudan’s split, Southerners have faced increasing hostility from the government in Khartoum. Back in October, the reporter Rebecca Hamilton looked at one aspect of this official harassment: the lashing of women who brew a culturally significant drink called marissa. From Slate:
Dau says that “instant justice” is applied to women who are arrested on suspicion of brewing marissa. They are taken to the police station, where the public attorney charges them, and then straight to the court where the judge sentences them. “They don’t give you any chance to appeal or defend yourself” said Dau. “In most cases, the commission doesn’t have the opportunity to intervene before the sentence is awarded.” Lashes are administered immediately, and if a custodial sentence is handed down, the woman is taken straight to prison. Dau says that in most cases, the special commission does not receive complaints. “The women think, ‘How will it help me to complain, I’ve already been lashed?’ ” Dau says that the appeals process often takes as long as the prison term—again rendering the commission’s intervention useless.
In Jebel Awila, one of the largest camps for displaced southerners, about 90 minutes’ drive from the center of Khartoum, I met Jacqueline Deng, who told me of her encounter with the marissa laws. Having fled the fighting in the south with her five children, Deng had managed to construct a shelter made of mud and sticks. Unable to find work, she turned to brewing marissa. One night, the police came to arrest her and many of her female neighbors. She had to leave her children behind, though the youngest, America, was just 4. She didn’t see her children for the next six months. She says there were “many, many” southern women in the prison with her and that the food she was given was “not enough to feed a cat.” When she finished her prison sentence and returned to Jebel Awila, she found that neighbors had taken care of her children, but her home had been destroyed.
This kind of systematic harassment has lead Southern Sudanese diaspora to return to their homeland en mass. The problem is, these southerners are literally stuck in a dangerous limbo. A shocking report from Refugees International:
As South Sudan prepares to become a nation on Saturday, thousands of southerners in the north feel abandoned and face increasing attacks and insecurity, Refugees International said today. There are currently 17,000 southerners crowded into nineteen assembly points in Khartoum, awaiting transportation southward. The security situation at these assembly points is deteriorating – with increasing reports of police raids and harassment by local community members. Refugees International is calling on the government of Southern Sudan to work with the humanitarian community to provide urgently needed transportation for those southerners trying to return to South Sudan.
“It is unacceptable that, once again, so many thousands are stuck in Khartoum, forced to live in such despicable conditions,” said Andrea Lari, Director of Regional Programs for Refugees International. “They are living like squatters, with no access to clean water, latrines, or other basic necessities. The governments in both the north and south are failing these people.”
Those southerners who manage to leave Khartoum face incredible hardship on their journey south. In Kosti, in northern Sudan, there are now 15,000 southerners at a way station originally designed to host just 800 people. When an RI team visited this same way station in February, the presence of 5000 people there was incredibly alarming. That there are now three times as many is cause for serious concern. Some returnees do not have access to clean drinking water, and there are fears of disease outbreaks.
In addition to this, trains transporting returnees have been attacked by armed militias in the north. Refugees International is urging the government of Sudan to provide escorts for these convoys to ensure the protection of southerners traveling to the border.
Seems to me that the international community should step up and provide support for Southerners wishing to return to the south.