Khartoum — The Sudanese authorities at Khartoum airport on Monday prevented around 200 southern Sudanese from boarding their planes saying they can only do so now using travel documents issued by Juba.
Paul Madut, a southerner at the airport, said he was surprised to find out in the early morning hours that the flight to Juba was moved to the international terminal. Upon inquiring, he was told that his booking is cancelled and that he cannot leave using a Sudanese passport.
"We don't know what to do now," one young woman also told Reuters, sitting next to a pile of suitcases and plastic bags outside the heavily guarded front gate of the international terminal.
South Sudan became an independent state last July and this week Khartoum declared that they are now officially considered foreign nationals and will be treated as such. They were given 30 days to register with Sudanese authorities.
The issue of citizenship has been a contentious item in the post-independence negotiations between north and south Sudan. Khartoum rejected any talk of dual citizenship and insisted that all 500,000 southerners in the north should make arrangements to adjust their status or depart to new state.
The two sides signed a 'Four Freedoms' pact last month declaring their intention to given each others' citizens' residency, ownership, work and movement rights. The implementation was contingent upon agreeing on details and resolving separate security issues.
After learning of the new requirement for traveling, hundreds of southern Sudanese flocked to their semi-operational embassy in Khartoum to obtain new travel documents.
"They need passports to board flights," a Sudanese police officer told Reuters from inside the terminal.
The deputy charge d'affaires Martin Essa told Sudan Tribune that all southerners who want to fly south can do so in two days after receiving their new passports. He said that priority would be given to those wanting to travel immediately and then all other categories who want to obtain passports as well as documentation proving their southern citizenship.
Essa said that southern students need not worry because there is a memorandum of understanding signed between the ministries of higher education in both countries.
The southern diplomat stressed that they are also focused on those working in private or international organizations, IDP's , students and those living in rural areas. He denied that that Juba took similar measures against northerners in the south.
He warned that Khartoum's decision is now a reality and has to be dealt with accordingly.
Until Sunday flights to the southern capital Juba had been conducted at the domestic terminal without passport controls.
With almost no passengers to check in, state-owned Sudan Airways and other local carriers suspended their Juba flights.
"We are ready to fly but wait for a political decision," said an official at Sudan Airways.