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A month after the agreement to end Sudan’s civil war raised hopes that thousands of Sudanese refugees would return home, 19-year-old Dennis Marial set out in the opposite direction: to become a refugee in northwestern Kenya. Find out why he and hundreds of others left the south for the dusty Kakuma refugee camp.

A young farmer from Yiriol in eastern Bahr El Ghazal province, Marial waits to be officially registered at a UN refugee agency reception centre so that he can receive food from WFP and other aid.

“We are all Sudanese and proud of our country. If peace is stable, we will go back," he explains. "But we just don’t know if the interim period will bring us war, separation or unity.”


Six years before a scheduled referendum on whether the south should become independent from the rest of Sudan, hundreds of southerners – most of them young men – are voting with their feet to become refugees at Kakuma, which is facing a break in the pipeline of WFP food for the camp’s 87,000 refugees.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees says more than 840 Sudanese have arrived in Kakuma since 1 January. Very few have gone in the other direction and UNHCR isn’t encouraging refugees to leave in large numbers until the south can take them in.

“In the south, there’s no work, no schools, no hospitals - there’s nothing,” says Marial, contrasting life at home with conditions in the camp, where refugees receive free food, accommodation, school education and medical attention.


Marial describes Yiriol as particularly unstable, with a drought last year that sparked food shortages and fighting between local tribes over land.

Both the Sudan People’s Liberation Army and the Government of Sudan were recruiting young men into the armed forces amid rising tensions over how the peace agreement would be implemented.

“Another reason we left is that now there is no peace for Sudan as a whole," says Marial. "In the west, there is war. And if the SPLA and the government armies have to integrate, people from the south might have to fight in Darfur.”

Marial lost track of his parents 10 years ago during the civil war. Having brought his seven brothers and sisters to Kakuma, he wants to study international affairs in Kenya. He hopes eventually to become a diplomat for the new Sudan.


Two decades of civil war and related famine have killed an estimated two million people in south Sudan and displaced four million inside the country, Africa’s largest. Another 560,000 south Sudanese have fled to neighbouring countries.

“The 230,000 refuges in Kenya depend on WFP food from a number of donors,” said Tesema Negash, WFP’s Country Director in Kenya, during a visit to Kakuma with U.S. Ambassador William Bellamy. Through WFP, the United States annually provides more than 50 percent of the food aid for Kakuma.

“WFP has managed to sustain a very healthy pipeline up until now thanks to the generous contributions of donors. But by April, we expect an almost complete break of cereals. By May, probably other commodities will run out,” Negash warned.


Negash said that new shipments for Kakuma were expected to arrive from the United States in July or August, so WFP had appealed to donors for cash to bridge the shortage by buying food locally. WFP hoped the U.S. ambassador’s visit would send a signal to other donors to do more for the refugees in Kenya.

He added that according to a recent UNHCR survey of refugees, most were anxious to go home. “But when will this happen? We don’t know,” Negash said.

“It all depends on what is available for these people in Sudan. The health facilities, the schools, shelter, roads, de-mining. All these will have to appear in Sudan for these people to go back. And until this happens, I doubt there will be a big influx of refugees from Kenya and elsewhere and back into Sudan.”

Marial agrees. “Perhaps we’ll have to stay here for years,” he says.


Kenya's refugee camps

The Kakuma and Dadaab refugee camps in Kenya, which currently house 225,000 refugees, were established a decade ago.

The refugee population is comprised largely of Somali (61%) and Sudanese refugees (27%) who have fled war and insecurity in their home countries.

Despite significant improvement in the political situation in both Somalia and the Sudan, insecurity and lack of infrastructure currently prevents the refugees from returning home.

The refugees also face extremely limited possibilities for resettlement. The policy of the Government of Kenya ensures that they cannot seek employment outside the camps, and the closed environment in which they live severely inhibits economic activities.

In the meantime, the refugees continue to depend entirely on WFP’s food assistance.


Support from WFP

WFP’s responsibility is to provide a full food basket of 2,100 kcal to the entire refugee population.

For the past two years, WFP, thanks to the support of key donor countries, has been able to provide 92% and 95% respectively of food requirements.

Malnutrition rates in the camps started to decrease in 2004, in part due to the improvement in the provision of a full foodbasket.

However, WFP Kenya’s support to the refugees in the Kakuma and Dadaab refugee camps is facing a critical pipeline break from May 2005.

The shortage of food will impact on each of the commodities provided by WFP (blended food, cereals, pulses, salt and vegetable oil).

In total, the food requirements for the programme from May through December 2005 are 35,500 metric tons of food valued at US$ 16 million.

Food is one of the few assets that the refugees can count on receiving in adequate quantities. A shortage of food or a complete break in the pipeline creates stress in the camps.

In addition, a sustained break will counter the positive improvements in the nutrition situation seen in the refugee camps in 2005.


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