Bentiu — Humanitarian agencies assessed a proposed way station in Unity State to accommodate an expected influx of South Sudanese returning to the new country after it split from Sudan in July last year.
An estimated 10,000 a day are expected to arrive in Unity State from from Renk, the main way station in Upper Nile State, before their departure to the other eight states in South Sudan.
The agencies who took part in the assessment included the South Sudan Relief Rehabilitation Commission (SSRRC), the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), the UN refugee agency (UNHCR), International Organization for Migration (IOM), INTERSOS, ACTED, and CARE International.
South Sudan is expecting the number of returnees from north Sudan to increase as the 8 April deadline for registering as a foreign worker in north Sudan or leaving the country approaches. After South Sudan voted to secede the South Sudanese remaining in north Sudan were given a nine month grace period to emigrate or register as a foreign national.
However there are fears that April 8 will not be enough time to organise the transportation of the 700,000 South Sudanese that remain in the north, or resolve the status of those that remain.
William Kuol Geng, SSRRC state director, said that the Unity State way station near Bentiu will accommodate up to 10,000 returnees for one night only before they move on the following day to their destination within South Sudan.
"What is needed here is only to increase the number of boreholes", Geng said, as at present the only one of the three boreholes in the are proposed for the way station is functioning. The SSRRC state director said that five more boreholes needed to be dug.
Geng said that the SSRRC is leading the operation with the assistance of the agencies on the assessment as well as the UN's Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA), the UN's Farming and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), World Food Programme (WFP), UNICEF, and other NGO's including World Vision.
He added that the returnees of Unity State will remain in the state once they arrive, while others will move on to their respective states. Many South Sudanese in north Sudan have never been to South Sudan.
The UN estimates that four million people were displaced and two million were killed by the two-decade civil war that ended in 2005 with a peace deal granting South Sudan the right to secede.
Following the results of the January 2011 referendum - 98% voted for separation - north Sudan has made it clear it will not grant Southerners Sudanese citizenship. South Sudan have, however, allowed northern Sudanese to apply for Southern citizenship should they wish to do so.
Geng added that the organised repatriation process will begin at the start of April. Returnees will be transported from the Sudanese capital Khartoum to Renk, in South Sudan's Upper Nile State.
After they reach Renk they will depart to their respective states but this may be hindered by the start of the rainy season, Geng said.
"Last month Khartoum government was suggesting that they have given us two routes from Kosti to El-Obeid, Daleny to Kadugli, and Kadugli to Jau", he said.
However, "Unity State authorities rejected that route due to ongoing conflicts in South Kordofan". Clashes in the Jau area with the north's military have been claimed by a rebel coalition - the Sudan Revolutionary Forces. Khartoum has blamed South Sudan's amy - the SPLA - for the fighting but this has been denied by Juba.
The only repatriation route left for returnees is via Renk and then on to Unity State, Geng concluded.