Returnees brave agony back home as 64 people reported dead in months

A total of 64 South Sudanese fleeing war in Sudan have died while on the way to their final destinations due to a lack of healthcare from May 2023 until now.

According to the minister of information in Upper Nile State, Luka Deng, thousands of South Sudanese may have successfully escaped the deadly shelling in Sudan’s Khartoum and other cities but tens of them succumbed due to various avoidable circumstances after arriving home.

In his interview with The City Review on Thursday, Deng said these returnees are faced by unbearable conditions which continue to endanger their lives.

“The situation of the returnees is very bad, especially those who fled the Sudan war and are currently in Upper Nile State, and those who have come from Ethiopia since May,” he said, adding, “64 returnees have died, and most of them are children [who died] while on the way to their final destination using boats.” This figure translates into an average 12 deaths in a month and three in a week.

According to Deng, the county commissioner of Kodok had informed him that the situation is deteriorating despite the response from the local organisations that are still trying to deliver services in the Upper Nile state.

“Most of those returnees are using boats to Nasir and Kodok, and there are no health facilities inside the boats, so this situation needs the intervention of the National Ministry of Health, especially in Nasir County and Kodoko County,” he urged.

The Upper State Minister of Health, Byinj Ernest Apuktong, clarified that most of the returnees who died had left South Sudan for Sudan for medication, and the children died of diseases related to measles and many others.

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“The report of the 64 who died is not all in the boats; some died on the transit side, others in the boats, while others at the destination,” he clarified.

He added, “most children died from children’s diseases because parents did not vaccinate them, so many died as a result of measles, pneumonia, and malaria, while the elderly died of a heart attack, and among others.”

“All the cases of the 64 are counted and are there in my reports, and I normally follow up with the team on the ground when people die of different diseases; by the way, I also lost a relative,” he said.

A Member of Parliament representing Nasir County, Upper Nile State, Reath Muoch Tang, also lamented that the situation of the returnees on the eastern side of Upper Nile State was bad and called for intervention.

“It has now been four months since the camps in Ethiopia came under crisis because of the cut in food ratios. We don’t know the details exactly why the food was cut, but I think that was the issue between donor countries of how the money or the things that were meant for the refugees were not getting there.”

Aside from those who are languishing in the camps, those who managed to reach their villages in Nasir, Kodok, and Akobo arrived to no shelter.

Money released

In May, the government of South Sudan released $15 million to address the humanitarian crisis in the country for people fleeing war in Sudan.

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The fund was channeled to the World Food Program (WFP), which currently has established infrastructure to fast-track the process as the country grapples with the influx of returnees fleeing violence in Khartoum.

The former Minister of Finance and Planning, Dier Tong Ngor, said this was a government pledge by Vice President Hussein Abdelbagi when he addressed the UN General Assembly.

“We will immediately give the money to the WFP after the signing of the multilateral contribution agreement in order for smooth implementation to start in the coming week,” Dier said.

The money is part of the $114 million that South Sudan received from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) early this year.

In May, South Sudan’s Minister of Humanitarian Affairs and Disaster Management, Albino Akol, said the humanitarian situation at the borders is still dire despite the expenditure of $1 million previously released by the government.

Albino revealed that out of the $5 million approved by the cabinet, they had received $1 million, which he said was used for the evacuation of the returnees.

“Cabinet has approved $1 million; we have tried to facilitate the people, but unfortunately, there are people who are suffering and in need of humanitarian aid,” he said.

“The funds that we have received from the government are finished, and currently we are waiting for other funds from the government. Yes, we will get the second fund, but while we are waiting, the people will continue to suffer,” Albino said.

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In August, the Council of Ministers directed the minister of finance and planning, Bak Barnaba Chol, to release funds to the ministry of humanitarian affairs to settle the refugees and returnees from Sudan.

This was after the Minister of Information, Michael Makuei, told journalists at the Ministry of Cabinet Affairs in Juba that Mr. Akol’s ministry had not received all the funds allocated for the exercise and there was a need for more.

“The balance was from the $5.3 million that had been approved but not paid in full. He said the minister had only received $2 million and was in dire need of the balance to accomplish other exercises.

In mid-April 2023, conflict erupted between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces. As of June 13, the fighting had displaced an estimated 1.67 million people inside Sudan.

In addition, more than 550,000 people have fled Sudan, including more than 475,000 refugees and returnees.

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