IOM Begins Airlift of Stranded South Sudanese from Kosti
GENEVA, Switzerland, May 15, 2012/African Press Organization (APO)/ -- IOM has begun an airlift of some 12,000 stranded South Sudanese from Kosti, 300 km south of the Sudanese capital Khartoum, to Juba in South Sudan.
On Monday, 14th May, the first two IOM-chartered flights arrived in Juba from Khartoum carrying a total of 326 people. A third flight left Khartoum on schedule at 9.15 am local time this morning and a fourth is expected to leave later today.
Yesterday's returnees, who included vulnerable people, including the old, the sick and families with small children, were received at Juba airport by South Sudanese officials before being transferred in IOM buses to a transit complex run by the UNHCR on the outskirts of Juba.
The flights are the first in an IOM airbridge between the two capitals designed to move South Sudanese stranded in Kosti to South Sudan, following the country's independence last year.
Many have spent months living in difficult conditions in the way-station waiting for transport and are desperate to leave, according to IOM Sudan Chief of Mission Jill Helke.
"This huge operation will assist thousands of people who have already been waiting too long for help to move to South Sudan to restart their lives. These are people for whom the recent deterioration in the political situation has created a real crisis," she said.
"Air operations are inherently complicated and we have had a number of setbacks and delays, but we hope that this smooth start has reassured everyone concerned. Our aim is to assist both two governments and to help the most vulnerable to travel to their homes and villages safely and in dignity," she added.
Each trip starts from Kosti, where IOM prepares manifests and provides pre-departure health checks. The returnees then travel to an IOM transit centre in Khartoum on IOM-chartered buses. IOM staff, including medical escorts, accompany each flight to take care of the most vulnerable on board.
Passengers are allowed to carry a maximum of 20 kg of luggage. The Government of South Sudan is providing transport for the rest of their luggage, which will be moved by truck from Kosti to Renk in South Sudan's Upper Nile state. From Renk it will be transported by Nile barges to Juba.
Many returnees have large quantities of luggage, which represents a major logistical challenge. It includes many of the items that they will need to rebuild their lives in South Sudan, such as building materials, household items and motorbikes.
Once the returnees arrive in Juba, they are registered by IOM staff. Those whose final destination is not Juba are then taken to the UNHCR transit centre, where they are given food and accommodation.
The transit centre can currently only shelter 1,000 people at any one time. IOM is therefore urgently working with the government to find space to construct an additional transit centre to accommodate the expected 12,000 from Kosti and other new arrivals.
Most of yesterday's returnees told IOM that Juba was their final destination. But the shortage of available houses and plots of land for building in Juba often leads to many returnees staying at the transit centre for a considerable length of time.
Meanwhile, an IOM-sponsored river Nile barge carrying 1,700 returnees who departed from the town of Renk in Upper Nile state two weeks ago, is due to arrive in Juba shortly. Renk currently hosts some 17,000 returnees in three congested camps.
To date, IOM has assisted in the voluntary movement of more than 53,000 South Sudanese by train, barge and flights since 2011. IOM's voluntary return assistance is carried out with funding from the Common Humanitarian Fund, financed principally by European donors, the UN Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) and the European Commission's Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection Office (ECHO.)
IOM has US$ 2.3 million to pay for the aircraft, buses and staff required to move people from Kosti to Juba. It believes that it will need US$5.5 million to complete the operation and is appealing to international donors for the additional US$ 3.2 million.