November 6, 2010 (KHARTOUM) - The International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) on Tuesday began airlifting 1,370 extremely vulnerable South Sudanese from the Khartoum to Aweil, the provincial capital of South Sudan’s Northern Bahr El Ghazal State.
The IOM-managed airlift, done in collaboration with both the Governments of Sudan and South Sudan, is earmarked to comprise of two 47-seat charter flights a day over the next two weeks.
The new arrangement, IOM said in a statement, will support extremely vulnerable individuals and their families to return to South Sudan, more than a year since it attained independence.
The vulnerable South Sudanese, include the elderly and handicapped people, unaccompanied minors, vulnerable female-headed households and pregnant women with medical complications, whom UNHCR and the Sudanese authorities have jointly identified as requiring emergency support to enable them to return to the South.
“We will facilitate the airlift of the EVIs [Extremely Vulnerable South Sudanese Individuals] and sincerely appreciate the great role being played by UNHCR and IOM in the voluntary return process,” said Mohammed Sinari Mustafa, Sudan’s Commissioner for Voluntary and Humanitarian Work.
Those airlifted, officials say, have been stranded in open areas of Khartoum for up to two years, with their health status anticipated to be at risk of developing complications, if left to live in the open or made to undertake the arduous road journey to South Sudan.
Deng Pouch Ngouth, the humanitarian attaché to the South Sudanese embassy in Khartoum, lauded both IOM and UNHCR for their humanitarian efforts to facilitate the airlift of these returnees back to South Sudan.
“We are extremely pleased for this return opportunity, which is helping those who are particularly vulnerable. We look forward to welcoming all home and working to help them rebuild their lives,” he said in the statement, also extended to Sudan Tribune.
In a related development, the Government of Sudan and the National Centre for Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) and Voluntary Return, on behalf of the Return Task Force, also expressed its appreciation to all entities involved in facilitating the return process of the vulnerable individuals.
Currently, between a 250,000 and 500,000 South Sudanese, according to the IOM, remain in Sudan, 40,000 of who remain stranded and living in open areas in Khartoum since 2010 as they waited for transport to South Sudan.
Many of them, according to agencies, gave up their jobs and homes in anticipation of the move and subsequently became stranded and at risk from prolonged exposure to the elements.
Meanwhile on arrival, the returnees, with support from IOM, UNHCR and South Sudanese officials, are reportedly given initial medical assistance, prior to transportation to their final destination.