Khartoum — The Sudanese government and its counterpart in South Sudan have inked a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to transport more than 300 southern citizens living in north Sudan back to their country.
Sudan denationalized its former southern citizens following their massive vote in favor of the secession of their region in a plebiscite held in January 2010. The vote was promised under a 2005 peace deal that ended nearly half a century of intermittent civil wars between the Arab-Muslim north and the predominantly Christian south.
On 26 January, Sudan's cabinet of ministers resolved that southerners staying in the country after 9 April will be treated as foreigners and therefore have to regularize their stay. UN agencies say more than 350,000 southerners have returned to their country since October.
The MoU was signed on Wednesday in the Sudanese capital Khartoum. Sudan's minister of social welfare, Amira al-Fadil, signed on behalf of her government and South Sudan's minister of humanitarian affairs Joseph Luwal signed on behalf of his. The agreement stipulates that the two governments will cooperate to transport of more than 300 southern Sudanese living in the north back to their new country.
The director of Sudan's state-sponsored National Center for Displacement, Mohamed Al-Sinari, was quoted by the country's official agency, SUNA, on Wednesday as saying that the minister Amira has welcomed the agreement and conveyed to the southern minister her government's willingness to transport southerners back to their country safe and sound.
The Sudanese official further said that the number of southerners staying in Sudan is estimated at 300,000, which is less by more than half of UN estimates which puts the number at 700,000 people.
Local and international civil society organizations have protested Khartoum's decision to revoke Sudanese citizenship of southerners, saying they should be given the choice between staying as Sudanese citizens and going back to the south.
Refugees International (RI), a US-based group, on Tuesday expressed serious concerns over Khartoum's plan to deport southerners en masse.
The group said that the proposal by Khartoum to set a deadline for southerners to leave or acquire new citizenship is "intolerable, and flies in the face of international law," calling on Sudan and South Sudan to reach a deal over citizenship.
The Sudanese government responds to the outcries of right groups by saying that the massive vote by southerners in favor of secession is a proof to the rightness of its decision.
The Sudanese government has recently reversed its decision to sack state employers whose one of their parents belongs to the south. Khartoum also exempts southern citizens of Abyei area from the decision to revoke citizenship, saying that the hotly contested region belongs to Sudan.
Last month, the International Organization for Migration announced the start of an airlift operation to take 400 southern Sudanese and their families back to their country.
"They include elderly and disabled people, pregnant women and people with serious medical conditions. Nine unaccompanied minors, identified by UNICEF, will also travel with the group to be reunited with their families in South Sudan" IOM said in a press release.