In preparation for the historic referendum to determine independence, thousands of South Sudanese who had taken refuge in the North began returning to their native land in early December in the hopes of a more promising future. With the votes having now been cast, southerners are hopeful that preliminary reports confirming the region will become the world’s newest nation are in fact accurate.
With 1.5 million to 2 million displaced southerners living in the north and possibly passing over the border to South Sudan, the UN and local government authorities are preparing for the possibility that new violence may erupt and/or that thousands of people will be in need of humanitarian resources upon returning to their points of origin. Up to 2,000 Sudanese per day have been crossing over border areas carrying their belongings including cooking utensils, iron sheeting for shelter and mattresses – over 120,000 have already returned.
“We anticipate that many more will return in the coming months following the referendum,” the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said. “Many of the returnees who have lived in the North for years say they have left for fear of the unknown and the opportunity to start afresh in their native South.”
In anticipation of medical needs that may arise, the UN coordinating agency assigned International Medical Corps as the health sector lead at points of migration in the former garrison town of Malakal in the border state of Upper Nile. To support the Malakal County Health Department and the Upper Nile State Ministry of Health, we set up mobile medical units throughout the area offering primary health care services.
Coming from northern Sudan and neighboring countries, more than 5,522 households representing over 27,385 verified individual returnees have passed through one of International Medical Corps’ project sites. To date, we have delivered 1,379 health consultations including 248 for children under 5. For many South Sudanese returning home after decades away from home, the Malakal Way Station and Malakal Stadium, where our medical units are located, was their first stop. International Medical Corps is proud to be able to support them and to work closely with the government of South Sudan going forward to ensure the healthy future of the South Sudanese people.
International Medical Corps has been providing health care services in South Sudan since almost a decade before the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement was signed. As South Sudan remains one of the most underdeveloped areas in the world 15 years after our operations began here, we continue to work in rural and urban areas, to improve immediate and long-term health service provision. Health services are provided through more than 50 primary and secondary health facilities that we support in nine counties across four states on both sides of the Nile River.