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A year after freedom, South Sudanese languish up north

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These are among 38,000 people from Sudan's south who remain stuck at such sites, after waiting out the north-south civil wars that frequently tore at the country since the 1950s. Perhaps 1.5 million southern Sudanese have already left the north since peace was agreed to in 2005; no one knows how many for sure. More than 400,000 of those have left since the south voted for separation in January 2011. But those still in Khartoum who want go south languish in squalid encampments dotted on the outskirts of the capital – like this one to the east, called Dar Es Salaam – with no running water and primitive facilities, if any.

The bus that never came

The transport promised by officials from the south never came. A brief conflict this April over the Heglig oil fields polarized the two sides, with parliament in Khartoum adding to popular anger in the north by declaring the southerners in their midst citizens of an "enemy state." It also left the governments of both North and South Sudan  strapped for cash after a shutdown of southern oil fields in the dispute.

Western donors have been reluctant to cover transport costs, worried that they may be abetting ethnic separatism. Those have skyrocketed with fuel prices – and questions have been raised about the ability of South Sudan to even "absorb" more of their urbanized brethren.

Moved by their plight, Mark Cutts, the head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) for Sudan, hosted a meeting recently between Western donors and representatives of the south Sudanese encampments in Khartoum, who described desperation levels so high that some of the stranded were resorting to illegally brewing alcohol and prostitution to survive.

"Some donors asked: 'What if you arrive [in South Sudan] and find it is worse?' They said: 'We would rather die in the south," recalls Mr. Cutts.

UN and donor access is limited to other conflict areas in Sudan, but "here we have 40,000 people who we can help, whose case is one of great need, who feel [South Sudan] is a place where they are safe and can rebuild their lives with dignity – and the international community is afraid to be seen to facilitate ethnic separation," says Cutts.

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