Laura Brown, CARE International UK’s Programme Management Co-ordinator, visited South Sudan in July to see how the country is coping one year on from Independence. In the last year, thousands of people have returned to their home country and, as Laura found, their situation is desperate.
I have recently returned from South Sudan where I met groups of people who had to travel for days at a time, and sometimes weeks, to get back to their home country. Along the way they saw babies and old people die – just too weak to complete a difficult journey with little or no food, and no protection at all from mosquitoes and the elements.
Everyone I met was relieved to have reached their destination in South Sudan but it was quickly apparent that the physical journey was just the start of their story.
Sitting in a CARE medical centre in Bentiu, Unity State, I spoke with ’returnees’ – the name this group of people has been given. They can’t be classed as refugees as they have their origins in South Sudan but they are as much in need as a refugee. They have few or no belongings, nowhere to live and no way to earn a living.
The government of South Sudan is trying to find places for returnees to live but, given the limited procedures and skills in place in the new government to support this, and the sheer numbers of people who need help, re-housing them is taking considerable time. James, the head of one returnee group, told me: “There is a plan to move us and give us plots of land but this hasn’t happened yet.”
Mayen, a mother whose 7-month-old baby died on the journey, said: “I just want some land and some seeds so that I can start to earn a living.”
Until these people get their own plot of land, they have no choice but to rely on organisations like CARE and the communities that they find themselves in. These communities are poor themselves, and become more so when they have to share their own limited resources. To help address this, CARE is working in areas that have seen a large influx of returnees. We are drilling boreholes and hand pumps, building toilets, and providing materials so people can build themselves a shelter to live in.
As the world’s newest country, South Sudan has many problems to overcome but it is reassuring to know that we are committed to supporting it not just with its short-term problems but also for the longer-term.