13 January 2011 – One day before voting began in the Southern Sudan referendum, Khamis Unywok packed up his wife, five children and all their belongings to return to his birthplace.
The family boarded a truck bound for the Upper Nile State capital of Malakal under the auspices of the Government of Southern Sudan’s programme for returning internally displaced persons.
The Unywok family arrived in Malakal on 12 January, but that left the 45-year-old auto mechanic with a problem. He had registered to vote in Khartoum, where Mr. Unywok has lived for the past 21 years. He now hopes to dash back to the national capital in time to cast his ballot before voting ends next Saturday.
“I don’t want to miss my chance,” said the native of Panyikang County in Upper Nile State. “I will go by either bus or boat to return to Khartoum to vote.”
When he returns from North Sudan, Mr. Unywok plans to settle down in Malakal where job opportunities for a mechanic should be more abundant than in Panyikang County.
Josef Ajak arrived in Malakal on the first day of voting and went to his designated polling centre on 10 January.
He was eight years old when he moved with his mother from the Upper Nile State town of Kodok to Khartoum. Twenty-three years later, Mr. Ajak made the decision to go home to Southern Sudan.
But like Mr. Unywok, the father of three will start a new life in Malakal. “It’s easier to find a job here because it’s a big town,” he said. “We have wider opportunity.”
According to the UN Resident Coordinator’s Support Office, 29,556 returnees have arrived in Upper Nile State from North Sudan with assistance from the Government of Southern Sudan. Less than 2,000 have reached their final destination in the counties of Baliet, Ulang and Nasir. The rest remain hunkered down in the state capital.