- (Photo: REUTERS/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah)
The government of Sudan, a mostly-Muslim East African nation, has begun airlifting an estimated 15,000 people to the mostly-Christian South Sudan, after all ethnic Southerners were dismissed from Sudan's civil service following the country's secession last year.
The first group of deportees consisting of 160 South Sudanese was transported Monday, and some of those included in the full number have only ever known Sudan as their home.
Seeking safety and work, several million people reportedly moved north over the 22 years of civil war between North and South Sudan, which claimed two million lives. But following the South's secession, completed in July 2011, a pact between the two countries requires that Southerners living in the North have to either become naturalized or leave the country following the April 8, 2012 deadline.
Thousands suddenly found themselves as refugees after their country gained independence, and were forced to move to a refugee camp near Khartoum and depend on foreign aid. Now, following Sudan's policies, thousands are being transported South, as many are reportedly fearful of their future in the poverty-stricken country and in the shade of a looming conflict with the North. Hundreds of thousands of others have already gone to South Sudan, according to Agence France-Presse.
The resettlement takes place against the backdrop of reported continued aggression from the North.
Bombings of South Sudan by Sudanese forces reportedly occurred against last week, despite calls from observing countries for the aggression to end. The South Sudan military said last week there were attacks Monday and Tuesday in the states of Upper Nile, Unity and Northern Bahr el Ghazal, according to The Associated Press. Still, authorities reportedly did not mention whether the attacks, allegedly launched by Sudanese warplanes, claimed any lives.
Khartoum, the capital of Sudan, has repeatedly denied it is carrying out a bombing campaign over the South's territory, saying instead that it is the victim of its neighbor's aggression. But some missions present in the region, notably Franklin Graham's Samaritan's Purse, a humanitarian relief ministry, have confirmed that Sudan is still carrying out bombing campaigns against the South
The U.N. Security Council last month approved a resolution threatening nonmilitary sanctions against Sudan and South Sudan if they do not stop the escalating violence and return to negotiations.
Following the South's secession, a conflict reemerged between the two countries. The transport of South Sudan's oil through Sudan's territory reportedly has been the cause of much of the hostility, although an ethnic and religious conflict was also reported to be taking place in the south of Sudan, in the Nuba Mountains and the Blue Nile regions, which are still inhabited by people who are largely Christian and animist.
After South Sudan seceded from the Muslim and Arab North, some African ethnic groups, mostly Christian or animist, remained on the wrong side of the border, according to reports that first started coming from local missions and humanitarian agencies. The alleged harassment that the Khartoum government exercised on the peoples of that region was publicized by campaigns from certain celebrity activists and organizations, notably celebrity George Clooney, as well as Samaritan's Purse, which has been among the first foreign aid organizations working on both sides of the border, helping Christian refugees fleeing from Sudan to South Sudan.
Since June 2011, heavy fighting between the Sudanese armed forces and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement-North in the South Kordofan and Blue Nile states has driven tens of thousands of Sudanese refugees into Ethiopia and the newly independent South Sudan, according to United Nations data. Some other sources estimate that 120,000 people from the region have now fled south of the border.
Last week, the U.N. Refugee Agency said that thousands have fled South Kordofan and Blue Nile only in the last month, "putting pressure on existing supplies and services."
"In South Sudan's Unity state, Yida settlement has received more than 3,200 arrivals from the Nuba Mountains so far this month," the agency said. "That's an average of 550 refugees per day – nearly double the rate in April and six times that in March." The border settlement's population now stands at nearly 30,000 refugees, according to the U.N.