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The Context of Repatriation: Historical Determinants of Displacement and Return

The Second Sudanese Civil War (1983-2005) triggered one of the worst humanitarian disasters of the twentieth century, reportedly resulting in more than 2 million casualties, most of them civilians including hundreds of thousands of children—the world’s highest death toll since World War II (USDS 2006). It also forced more than 4 million people to become internally displaced or to seek refuge in neighboring countries (UNHCR 2006). Common responses to the conflict-related insecurity were crossing the border into Egypt, Kenya, Uganda, or Ethiopia, being resettled to a third country, moving to Khartoum and northern Sudan, or staying more locally. Overall, wartime violence and dislocation had markedly dissimilar consequences for various members of society. So did mobility as a survival strategy, “with those in privileged positions having greater access to more secure places, and boys and men being more mobile [than girls and women] as they searched for protection, livelihood and education” (Grabska 2014, 38).

The 2005 CPA marked the end of this conflict—Africa’s longest- running civil war in recent history. For the large majority of displaced South Sudanese, children and adults alike, the official ceasefire was a welcome cessation of hostilities between the North and the South, but it did not represent the end of political or structural, or interpersonal violence. Many of the child protection concerns that dominated the wartime period—including the double need to safeguard children from widespread violence and deprivation while also protecting civilians from violent militarized youth—remained prevalent after peace was declared. The process of disarmament was never fully completed. Neither were efforts to demobilize the thousands of minors associated with the armed forces during earlier phases of the war. Widespread small arms, mines, and unexploded ordnances remain additional concerns (UNICEF 2011a, b).

A report produced by South Sudan’s Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration Commission in 2012 estimated that only 14 % of the South Sudanese lived within 5 kilometers of a primary healthcare center. Among other issues, this leads to the country having the high?est prevalence of maternal mortality worldwide. Educational opportunities were among the lowest in the world, especially for the young. South Sudan also has some of the lowest primary school enrollment rates, the highest dropout rates, and the widest gender disparities. As of 2012, less than half of the primary school-age children were in school, and only 27 % of the population was literate (SSDDRC 2012, 6-8).

Another significant feature of the CPA is that it paved the way for the secession of the South from the Khartoum-based Northern Government. The Republic of South Sudan became an independent nation on July 9, 2011, following a referendum that had taken place on January 9 of that year (Southern Sudan Referendum Commission 2011; GoSS 2011). Peace, albeit precarious and ultimately short-lived, made it possible for a vast array of displaced individuals to return “home” or, in the case of many from the youngest generations, to contemplate settling in the land of their elders for the first time. Reintegration was hindered by the dearth of educational, livelihood, and other social and economic scenarios. The failure to provide meaningful opportunities for older children and youth (Ensor 2013) has been a contributing factor in their renewed involvement in violent clashes in South Sudan, with much of the most recent fighting taking place between groups of armed youth (Arensen 2016).

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