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Exclusive: Southern Sudanese return ahead of referendum

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Exclusive: Southern Sudanese return ahead of referendum

Posted by Matt Brown on December 2, 2010

The following is the first in a regular series of multimedia dispatches from veteran journalist Tim Freccia reporting from southern Sudan.

Tensions are rising along the border between North and South Sudan. Many feel that this oil-rich region could be the front lines of Sudan’s next civil war if an independence vote does not go smoothly.
With nearly a month to go before the South votes on independence from the North, thousands of southerners living in the North are flooding back to their southern homelands in convoys of ancient, dilapidated buses. The southerners are returning, they say, out of fear of potential reprisals in the North should the country split into two.
Veteran multimedia journalist, Tim Freccia, went to Abyei and Bentiu, towns near the volatile border, and documented the migration of southerners. In this first of a regular series of multimedia dispatches from Southern Sudan – exclusively for Enough and Not On Our Watch – Freccia covers a Government of Southern Sudan-organized effort to bus residents back home in time for the scheduled January 9 vote.


Many of the returnees are stuck in limbo in the administrative capitals of Bentiu and Abyei without the means to continue the journey to their home villages. In Bentiu, returnees have set up makeshift displacement camps in schools and churches. They lack basic needs such as food, water and health care.
Residents of Abyei, a contested border region, have reason to fear that they could be caught in the middle of a war. Clashes between the North and South in 2008 razed the town and sent thousands fleeing for their lives. They know what a return to war would look like.
The returnees have been away from the South for so long that many of them are finding it difficult to fit in, Taban Deng, the Governor of Unity State, said in an interview from Bentiu. Still, most are happy to be back in their homeland and reunited with family, despite the hardships they face.
“They see themselves as foreigners. They don’t see themselves as belonging to that place,” Deng said. “They are facing difficulties here but they are happy. They think this is just a temporary thing. This condition will disappear.”