South Sudan is demanding its citizens living in northern Sudan to return in order to enhance the votes ahead of a referendum for independence. Despite these claims, South Sudan authorities insist that the reason behind the project to return southern Sudanese from the north are humanitarian and not politically motivated.
According to reports, south Sudanese living in the north may not be allowed to vote for southern Sudan’s independence while in the north, thus, the return of 1.5 million southern voters could play a decisive role in the January referendum and help split the oil-rich south from the north.
Many South Sudanese, approximately 1.5 million, had migrated to the north during the two-decade-long civil war between north and south Sudan.
South Sudan is prepared to use use trains, trucks and buses to return its citizens to the south. Authorities say returning families would be directed to reception centers in towns where they would be fed and sheltered for three months. But aid organizations are reportedly wary of a project that could be interpreted as having political overtones.
Despite these claims, South Sudan authorities insist that the reason behind the demand for the return of southern Sudanese from the north are humanitarian and not politically motivated.
“We’re not politicians. We’re operating on humanitarian grounds. If they come to vote for unity, we don’t care. If they come to vote for secession, we don’t care,” the government’s director of repatriation, Arop Mathiang Amiyock was quoted by reporters.
Preparations for the referendum scheduled to hold in January, are running behind schedule, and officials have warned that little time remains to complete critical tasks.
Experts say a large influx of southern Sudanese needing aid and relocation assistance in the south could create an added tax on aid agencies in a region where the humanitarian situation is already complex with 4.3 million vulnerable people in the south already requiring food assistance.
“We are looking for resources from the government and from donors. That’s why we haven’t started the project yet. We are concerned about the resources we have to support the returnees. That’s why we are appealing to the international community,” Mathiang Amiyock added.
Some pundits however believe that the north will not let the south become independent because the north is too dependent on the oil from the south.
According to the UN Refugee Agency, an estimated 4 million southern Sudanese were forced to flee to neighboring countries including northern Sudan. And with the referendum for independence around the corner, the return of southern voters could help the referendum gain additional support.
But a commission is currently deadlocked on whether to allow returning southerners vote in the referendum.