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Southern Sudan homecoming brings new problems

By Emily Wither for CNN
  • Roseann Dennery has submitted two iReports about returnees to Southern Sudan
  • Dennery works with international aid agency Samaritan's Purse
  • She says there is a lack of food and water for returnees
  • Returnees have to wait up to 12 hours to collect water in camps, she says

(CNN) -- Thousands of people have started flooding home to Southern Sudan following the historic referendum that separated south from north.

But the influx of people eagerly returning to an independent homeland is placing a strain on the local infrastructure that already lacks enough schools and clinics, according to Roseann Dennery, a relief worker with international aid agency Samaritan's Purse.

Dennery, who is based in the Bahr el Ghazal region, in the south, says she has witnessed thousands of people arriving by the bus load from the capital Khartoum, in the north.

She submitted her account of what she saw to CNN's iReport.

"People are happy, they felt safe and they want to start their lives again in the south," she said.

A lot of them say that their lives were restricted in the north. They couldn't do a lot besides work ... they always knew they were outsiders.
--Roseann Dennery, relief worker with Samaritan's Purse

"A lot of them say that their lives were restricted in the north. They couldn't do a lot besides work, there wasn't much religious freedom and they always knew they were outsiders," she continued.

Sudan's north and south fought a war for more than 20 years, which left around two million people dead.

In January a new chapter of history was opened when an overwhelming majority of Southern Sudanese voted in favor of independence from the north.

The region is now set to become independent in July this year.

In her iReport Dennery describes speaking to a returnee from Khartoum called Bak Geng. He told her: "It's been 15 years since I have been here, in my homeland. I thought I'd never see this day.

"Life in Khartoum was very hard, very hard. There was much work, no rest there. But we had to leave our village when the war came, our cows and property were taken. Everything we owned was looted. I left on foot. Believe me when I say I saw many people die."

But Dennery says independence has brought with it a fresh set of problems.

She reports that many of the returnees are children who were born in Khartoum and have never seen the south. She also says that some others left when they were very young and are now returning as young adults with their own children.

As a result a number of resettlement communities have been springing up in the region and many are finding that there is not enough food and water to go around, she says.

In another account for iReport, Dennery describes people at a returnee camp waiting up to 12 hours to collect water for their families.

"Many of them (the returnees) were told that there would be a lot services for them once they came down," she explained. "They were told there would be a lot of food, water, opportunities for work and many more organizations in the south to help them."

But she says Samaritan's Purse is one of the only aid organizations working in the area.

At the last count, the organization says there were about 70,000 returnees in the region. But with over a million displaced during the war numbers are expected to keep growing.

"There are buses (of returnees) two, three times a week," Dennery said.