Yesterday we met with a group of young Sudanese people who had spent most of their lives as refugees in Uganda because of the war in their country. They recently returned home to southern Sudan after the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) was reached between North and South Sudan. They had all grown up in refugee settlements in Uganda, and they talked about their appreciation of the schooling they had been able to receive because of international humanitarian assistance to the refugees in Uganda. But they emphasized the fact that life had not been easy for them as refugees. At times it was a struggle for them to get sufficient food, and – even when things seemed to be improving for them - their lives were disrupted by violence in Uganda caused by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).
They had all made the decision to return to southern Sudan after the war ended because -- as one young woman said to us – “it is our motherland.” They were also hoping for training and job opportunities in Juba, the capital of southern Sudan. Studying was important to them, but they did not have the money to advance their education further in Uganda. They hoped that they would have more possibilities and a new start in their home country.
Returning home after so many years in exile proved to be more challenging than they had expected. It has been hard for them to adapt to life in a different culture, and hard for them to gain acceptance by their fellow Sudanese. As one young woman told us: “The lifestyle here is not like in Uganda. They say we are not really Sudanese and that we are cowards for running away.” One young man told us how the returning refugees are referred to negatively as the “after peace people.”
This group of young people spoke of the good fortune they all had in having been accepted into a catering skills training course run by a US-based aid agency. This was giving them opportunities to seek employment in Juba. They all hoped that they could eventually make enough money to afford to pay for further education. Despite their happiness about being in the course, their descriptions to us of their lives showed the daily challenges that they had to face.
For example, in order to arrive at the course by 7am from the distant places where they can afford to live, they must walk for hours in the dark. There is no public transport available at that hour and they face beatings and robberies by criminals on the road. The young women spoke of the harassment and threats of sexual violence they frequently received from men during these daily journeys.
These young people were still optimistic about their future in southern Sudan because of the opportunity they had been given by this course. But such desperately-needed courses are few and far between. Funding is very limited. One aid worker we spoke with noted that he had worked on projects that helped refugees return home after the end of the conflict in Sierra Leone. Although that country is only half the size of one of the ten states of southern Sudan, his budget was nearly four times his current budget for southern Sudan.
If the international community is committed to bringing a lasting peace to southern Sudan, it must show that commitment by funding vital reintegration programs of this kind. As one of the young men we spoke with yesterday said to us: “This course is giving me a chance. We need more courses like this for other young people in Juba. That would help reduce crime and make Juba a better place to live for everybody.”
Advocates Andrea Lari and Melanie Teff are currently in south Sudan assessing the progress of returnees to the region.
Labels: south Sudan
October 24, 2008