LONDON (AlertNet) – As Sudan and South Sudan sit down to peace talks they must make it a priority to sort out citizenship problems which have left hundreds of thousands of people in a “stateless” limbo, rights activists say.
People from South Sudan were left without any official nationality last year after the south became independent and the government in the northern capital of Khartoum stripped them of their Sudanese citizenship.
Refugees International (RI) said as many as 500,000 southerners were still living in Sudan and warned that violence against them was on the rise. Tens of thousands have lost their jobs.
Khartoum gave them until April 8 to quit the country or sort out citizenship and a permit to stay.
But reaching the south is almost impossible because the government has stopped barges going down the Nile for security reasons and fighting in the Southern Kordofan region has ruled out travel by bus and train.
The two countries are resuming talks in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa this week after coming close to all out war when border violence escalated to its worst level since the south gained independence in July 2011.
“Sudan has said security issues will be a priority in these talks. That has to include the security of those hundreds of thousands of southerners still in Sudan,” said Sarnata Reynolds, RI’s expert on statelessness, who visited South Sudan last month.
“The longer it takes for southerners to be recognised as South Sudanese nationals, the more vulnerable these people are to violence, exclusion and poverty.”
Reynolds said attacks against southerners in Sudan were on the rise.
“There have been church bombings, kidnappings, abductions that include forced conscription into Sudan's military, and forced expulsions,” she added.
Among the most vulnerable to attack and discrimination are the 127,000 southerners in Khartoum who have registered their intention to leave, according to RI.
In a new report South Sudan Nationality: Commitment Now Avoids Conflict Later, RI called for the Sudanese government to work with the International Organization for Migration to arrange for them to be flown to the southern capital Juba.
The report also urged both Sudan and South Sudan to prevent people becoming stateless.
The authorities in Juba are currently processing thousands of applications for nationality certificates, ID cards and passports.
But RI said South Sudanese officials appeared to be discriminating against lighter skinned people and some ethnic groups.
“…the lighter the applicant’s skin, the more likely they will be assumed to originate from outside RoSS (Republic of South Sudan),” the report added.
RI said that under South Sudanese law, people applying for nationality only need to demonstrate that they are “likely” to be South Sudanese. But RI's research suggests people from communities or tribes outside the Juba area are finding it harder to demonstrate they are “likely” South Sudanese.
Reynolds said she had met people who were so discouraged by the irregular and excessive demands being made on them that they were considering abandoning attempts to acquire a nationality certificate.
“A person’s colour, faith, tribe, ethnicity, or any other attribute should have no bearing on the granting of citizenship,” she added.
Historically migrant populations like the Falata and Mbororo are at “exceptionally high risk of statelessness” despite their decades-long presence in the southern region, the report said.
Reynolds said the irregularities she witnessed reinforced the need for oversight by the United Nations and an independent government unit to ensure the process was fair.
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(Editing by Lisa Anderson)