South Sudanese refugees to be airlifted out of Sudan

Sudanese soldiers in the disputed oil region of Heglig after the end of the South Sudanese occupation (23 April 2012) The fighting between the Sudans has prompted fears of a full-blown war

Thousands of South Sudanese stranded for months in a camp in Sudan are to be airlifted home, an aid group says.

At least 12,000 refugees were stuck in the river town of Kosti, in White Nile State, when boat traffic south was cut because of cross-border violence.

They will now be taken by bus to Khartoum and then flown to Juba, South Sudan's capital, the International Organisation for Migration said.

The IOM says Sudan has dropped a demand that they leave by 20 May.

Meanwhile, a UN deadline for both South Sudan and Sudan to cease all hostilities or face sanctions expired yesterday. The sporadic unrest has sparked fears of all-out war between the countries.

The IOM said the airlift of the South Sudanese refugees had been made possible after the Sudanese government agreed to help.

It said Khartoum had promised to provide emergency travel documents and arrange for the transport of excess baggage which cannot be accommodated on the charter flights on which the South Sudanese will be flown south.

"We hope to start within a week," Jill Helke, head of the the IOM office in Khartoum, told the AFP news agency.

The refugees are among an estimated 350,000 South Sudanese stranded in Sudan after a period of grace for them to regularise their status ended on 8 April, according to the AFP news agency.

After South Sudanese troops briefly occupied the disputed Sudanese border town and oil field of Heglig last month, the governor of White Nile state declared the South Sudanese a security risk and demanded that they leave by 5 May.

He later extended this deadline to 20 May, and has now withdrawn it in response to the IOM's departure plan, the IOM says.

Map showing position of oilfileds in Sudan, source: Drilling info international

Both Sudan and the South are reliant on their oil revenues, which account for 98% of South Sudan's budget. But the two countries cannot agree how to divide the oil wealth of the former united state. Some 75% of the oil lies in the South but all the pipelines run north. It is feared that disputes over oil could lead the two neighbours to return to war.

Satellite image showing geography of Sudan, source: Nasa

Although they were united for many years, the two Sudans were always very different. The great divide is visible even from space, as this Nasa satellite image shows. The northern states are a blanket of desert, broken only by the fertile Nile corridor. South Sudan is covered by green swathes of grassland, swamps and tropical forest.

Map showing Ethnicity of Sudan, source:

Sudan's arid north is mainly home to Arabic-speaking Muslims. But in South Sudan there is no dominant culture. The Dinkas and the Nuers are the largest of more than 200 ethnic groups, each with its own languages and traditional beliefs, alongside Christianity and Islam.

Map showing infant Mortality in Sudan, source: Sudan household health survey 2006

The health inequalities in Sudan are illustrated by infant mortality rates. In South Sudan, one in 10 children die before their first birthday. Whereas in the more developed northern states, such as Gezira and White Nile, half of those children would be expected to survive.

Map showing percentage of households using improved water and sanitation in Sudan, source: Sudan household health survey 2006

The gulf in water resources between north and south is stark. In Khartoum, River Nile, and Gezira states, two-thirds of people have access to piped drinking water and pit latrines. In the south, boreholes and unprotected wells are the main drinking sources. More than 80% of southerners have no toilet facilities whatsoever.

Map showing percentage of who complete primary school education in Sudan, source: Sudan household health survey 2006

Throughout the two Sudans, access to primary school education is strongly linked to household earnings. In the poorest parts of the south, less than 1% of children finish primary school. Whereas in the wealthier north, up to 50% of children complete primary level education.

Map showing percentage of households with poor food consumption in Sudan, source: Sudan household health survey 2006

Conflict and poverty are the main causes of food insecurity in both countries. In Sudan, many of the residents of war-affected Darfur and the border states of Blue Nile and South Kordofan, depend on food aid. The UN said about 2.8m people in South Sudan would require food aid in 2013. The northern states tend to be wealthier, more urbanised and less reliant on agriculture.

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