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South Sudanese on their way back home

KHARTOUM--Mary Valentino said goodbye on Saturday to the cardboard shack she has called home.

Valentino was one of 1,500 ethnic South Sudanese preparing to board buses returning them to their ancestral homeland from Khartoum-area squatter camps where many of them have lived for more than two years.

“I'm very happy to go back,” she said, smiling with a baby on her hip after emerging from her family's dirt-floor hovel beside a busy road in Khartoum's Haj Yousef district.

“I will not come back here again,” she said. “It is very difficult to live here.”

Her camp, home to about 1,000 people, was one of about 40 in the Khartoum area which are home to almost 20,000 “stranded” southerners, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) says.

Almost every single one of them wants to go south, said a survey by IOM which provided technical support for Saturday's repatriation.

Millions of southerners fled to the north during a 22-year civil war which ended in a 2005 peace deal that paved the way for South Sudan's independence in July 2011, following a referendum.

About 1.8 million southerners have gone to South Sudan by various means since 2007.

Those who remain at the Khartoum settlements have no money to travel themselves. While they wait for transport they have been living in conditions which the U.N. called “appalling.”

South Sudanese have been classed as foreigners in Sudan since April last year, restricting their access to employment and services following the South's separation.

“No job. No money,” says Wol Dyang, a former Sudanese policeman who is the camp's leader.

Although Dyang is missing his lower teeth, his bald head, thick-rimmed glasses, a sports jacket and short wooden staff give him a bearing of authority.

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South Sudanese children are seen ahead of their trip back to South Sudan in Khartoum, North Sudan on Saturday, Dec. 14.

(AFP)

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