The long road to Juba for displaced South Sudanese
Published: 31 Jul 2012
By Matthew Corrigan, 31 July 2012
In May 2012, the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) flew thousands of South Sudanese to Juba. They were part of an estimated 12-15,000 returnees that have been stranded in Kosti, Sudan waiting to travel to the South. The move was brought to ahead when the authorities of Kosti demanded that those people be resettled in the South.
IOM negotiated with the Government of South Sudan (GOSS) to house them in a temporary transit site on the outskirts of Juba pending permanent resettlement. That site is a teacher training centre, which is temporarily closed. Once it is reopened, the transit site must close or move. I visited the site on 28 July 2012, it is a clean and well-ordered camp. Families live in tents and there are communal cooking facilities and basic sanitation. Given its temporary nature, there is no school on site.
The Government announced on Friday 27 July 2012, that the teacher training centre would reopen at the end of the month. This raises the immediate question of where the 2000 current residents of the camp will go. It also raises the longer term question of where these people will be resettled and how they will be supported to develop sustainable livelihoods.
The centre was intended to be a temporary home pending resettlement in Juba. A significant challenge for IOM and other UN agencies is managing the sheer scale of the movement of people. Over two million people have returned to the South since 2005 a large number of them have been assisted in that journey by refugee agencies. How to manage that return whilst ensuring UN principles for resettlement, particularly the right to a livelihood, is upheld is a particular challenge. Whilst the UN agencies manage the logistics of transfer and provide immediate relief through food and NFI packages, it the GOSS that is responsible for finding land for final resettlement. The policy challenge of reintegration is one of supporting returnees to build the capacity to become productive and accepted members of the community where they are settling.
South Sudan’s Development Plan acknowledges the need to provide returnees with access to land. Given that only 5% of the land of South Sudan is cultivated, there is at least in theory plenty of land that is available. The GOSS’s policy is predicated on the assumption that people will be returned to their ancestral lands. For those individuals, resettlement and livelihood programs are focused on agriculture and cultivation. Most survive on basic subsistence. An NRC study found that “people tend to go back to their areas of origin because they can fall back on local safety nets, traditional solidarity mechanisms and kinship ties for re-integration into society. Belonging to a group is essential part of the livelihood strategy of rural people.”
A significant minority, however, would prefer to settle in urban areas, particularly Juba. Indeed, those living in the Juba transit site were there because they had indicated a desire to settle in Juba. Thousands have been through that camp since its opening in May, most have found accommodation with extended family. However, 2000 remain, awaiting land allocation.
Land in Juba and its outskirts is scarce. Plot sizes are small, insufficient to provide basic subsistence. This raises the serious issue of how these families can generate livelihoods. Unemployment is rampant in Juba. This poses particular challenges for returnees especially those with limited skills. Whilst educated returnees are more likely to find work, they nevertheless face considerable difficulty finding suitable positions. In addition to the challenge of finding employment, there is a lack of access to credit which could support entrepreneurship and business development for returnees.
Most returnees find work in the informal economy. A World Bank 2009 study confirmed the rapid growth of the informal sector in South Sudan particularly in Juba. The informal sector has some capacity to provide work for returnees, though the work does not provide income security and in some cases can be hazardous. Moreover, the World Bank has concluded that for long term sustainable employment in the formal sector there is an urgent need for increased public and private investment in the formal sector. As austerity measures continue to bite that investment in particularly lacking.
Considering the plight of those 2000 individuals in the Juba transit centre, one of the challenges for the international community is clearly balancing immediately humanitarian needs with supporting long term sustainable development. Managing large scale returns to South Sudan needs to be balanced by assistance for economic development programs which will assist economic growth and long term sustainable livelihoods particularly in urban areas.
Matt Corrigan is a human rights lawyer currently working on projects in South Sudan. He is currently on extended leave from the Australia Government where he was most recently a Director in Human Rights Policy. Matt has also worked for UNDP in Bangladesh where he led international efforts to support the establishment of a human rights commission.