Returnee train departs Sudan capital for south

March 2, 2012 - 10:46 AM

KHARTOUM, Sudan (AP) — A 60-car train carrying 1,400 southern Sudanese stranded in the north by their homeland's declaration of independence has left Khartoum for the south, the International Organization for Migration said Friday. The passengers are among hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants expected to make the arduous journey in the months ahead.

Millions of southerners fled to northern Sudan during the 22-year war that led to South Sudan's independence in July of last year.

Khartoum ruled after negotiations with South Sudan that all southerners living illegally in the north — an estimated 500,000 — would either regularize their status or depart for the south by April 8.

The IOM said the train departed Khartoum on Thursday. Another 500 southerners will be picked up in the town of Kosti south of Khartoum.

All told, the journey of over 600 miles (1,000 kilometers) across desert, scrubland and savannah is expected to take 10 days.

Both groups had been camped out in open lots. The IOM said the passengers were carrying a "huge amount of luggage ... including building materials, household items and personal effects — all needed to help them rebuild their lives in the South."

The IOM says that it expects a "majority" of the half million southerners it says lives in Khartoum will opt to return.

But many southerners say privately that they hope to stay in the north. Many were born or have lived for decades in Khartoum, and say they feel cut off from the south's traditional tribal society.

Thousands of people have moved in both directions since the war, which began in 1983, ended in 2005. The IOM says that in 2011, it helped some 23,000 South Sudanese residing in northern Sudan to return home by barge, train and air. The organization also assisted 16,500 others to depart South Sudan for various locations.