Sudan deadline passes, confusion reigns | Africa | DW | 09.04.2012
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Sudan deadline passes, confusion reigns

A law in Sudan forcing ethnic South Sudanese to register as foreigners or leave the country, is causing problems nationwide. Meanwhile, fighting in the border regions continues, making migration even more difficult.

Half a million ethnic South Sudanese face uncertainty and confusion, following the passing of a deadline for them to either leave Sudan or register themselves as foreigners in the country. Easter Sunday (April 8) marked the end of a grace period following South Sudan's separation in July 2011 from its northern neighbour, Sudan.

President of Sudan, Omar Hassan Ahmed El Bechir is seen during the opening session of the French-Africa Summit in Cannes, southern France

Sudan President Omar al-Bashir is reluctant to push back the deadline

Sudan government spokesman Hassan Ali Osman confirmed that his government will not extend the deadline for southerners to return home. However, Jumbe Omaru Jumbe from the International Organisation for Migration told DW that on the ground some leniency was being shown. "Although the deadline has expired, the Sudan government is saying now that they are willing to allow the southerners more time to fill out the forms to permit their stay in the north without harassment or fear."

Omaru Jumbe says that the leniency is mainly due to talks last week between Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir and former South African prime minister, Thabo Mbeki, who is acting on behalf of the African Union. South Sudanese President Salva Kiir says his government is also negotiating to extend the deadline.

Difficult to move

The situation for South Sudanese living in the north remains difficult. John Jok, a 50 year old resident in the north with South Sudanese heritage, says he needs more time to move. "I have lived in the north for forty years. Let them give me more time to prepare properly to return home," he told DW.

One 32 year old pregnant woman also explained how she had been on her way to the South Sudanese town of Wau, when her group was turned around by government troops and brought back to Khartoum.

A photo showing people sitting under a makeshift tent as they gathered outside a tent after fleeing fighting in Kadugli town, south Kordofan state, Sudan

Thousands are stuck in Sudan, waiting to return to the south

Some 12,000 people are currently living in makeshift camps near the border, waiting for transport from the South Sudanese government, according to Jumbe Omaru Jumbe. There are also reports that a number of South Sudanese are stuck at Khartoum's airport on Monday, unable to fly south due to passport issues.

A delegation from the South Sudanese capital, Juba, has headed to Khartoum to begin the formal registration process of southerners. Up until now, South Sudanese had been asked to go to police stations in order to get new identification documents.

However, police offficers at two stations told news agency, AFP, they had only heard about the initiative on the news, and no southerners had been there to register.

Fighting continues

Southerners wanting to head south by road in private vehicles now face an almost impossible task, due to the ongoing fighting in the border zone.

On Monday, Sudanese President Bashir called on South Sudan to halt aid to rebel groups north of the shared border, saying stopping the conflict was the key to improving relations between the two countries.

An SPLM-N fighter sits on a camouflaged truck at the bush camp of the rebel movement’s leader, Malik Agar.

Sudan People's Liberation Movement-North fighters at work

Fighting is currently still going on between Bashir's government forces and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement-North (SPLM-N), a banned political party in Sudan. The rebels say they are not being helped by the South Sudan government in Juba.

World leaders hope that tensions between the two sides won't re-ignite the conflict between the Arab Muslim north and African Christian south. They waged a 22 year long civil war, which ended in July 2011. The conflict is said to have killed two million people.

Author: André Leslie (with James Shimanyula in Nairobi)
Editor: Mark Caldwell

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