Renk, 17 May 2023 – Teaching has always been Long Deng's passion. His dream took him to the town of Al-Kalakla in Khartoum, where he went to study Education at the Sudan Open University seven years ago. The flexibility of his studies meant he could work part-time.
“With a degree, I was one step closer to my teaching dream. So, when I finally achieved it and got the opportunity to teach children at a local school in Abu Adam, I was happy.”
When the fighting erupted on 15 April, he had no choice but to leave the country.
The father of three left Abu Adam before the violence could get to them. But the life they had built over the past seven years could not be packed up as luggage. He had to prioritize only the essentials for the road. Transportation was the next hurdle; modes of transportation were hard to come by and the few available had tripled their prices.
It took Deng all his savings to secure transportation for his wife, two children, niece, and himself. Even then, he did not have enough money. Like many others, he had to come to an agreement with the car’s owner to pay upon arrival where he would access money from the South Sudan side of the border.
The first car had to be shared with other families, so Deng chose to have his wife and children take it.
“My wife and the children had to go first, I was okay remaining behind and hopefully follow them after and if not, at least I would know they are safe,” he says.
Deng managed to secure transportation and followed shortly. With the vehicle filled to the brim with household goods and passengers, the journey was slow, and they had to spend the night in Rabek town, 158 kilometres from the Sudan border with South Sudan.
The eventual journey across the border brought back memories from when and why he left. Seven years down the line, it was not the homecoming Deng had hoped for, but it offered a moment of clarity: joy from knowing that he had done his bit in Sudan, he had been able to build a life following his passion, as well as a calling to begin doing the same in his hometown of Bentiu.
Back home in South Sudan, he hasn’t stopped thinking about his students.
“I always think of my students, hoping that they made it out as well and, if not, are safe and sound.”
Like Deng, most of the South Sudanese returning home want to go back to their communities.
“I left my rented house locked and if the fighting ends and things get back to normal, I would wish to go back and collect my things,” he adds.
Over 90 per cent of the nearly 50,000 people who have arrived in South Sudan since the start of the fighting are South Sudanese. Wounthou/Juda continues to be the main point of entry for arrivals.
Like Deng, they want to go to their communities and cannot wait. At the Juda point of entry in Renk, approximately 2,000 to 3,000 arrivals are recorded daily; the majority are South Sudanese. Most of them have already spent all their money to reach the crossing. Some are reaching out to their relatives to facilitate their journeys, but the majority are unable to. If they don’t receive help, they might become stranded under the scorching heat for days or even weeks.
Having been successfully registered, Deng has his family beside him, and his luggage packed, as they gather next to a bus awaiting the boarding process. “So, when do we leave?” he asks with optimism.
The bus is part of a seven-vehicle fleet operated by the International Organization for Migration (IOM), that has been facilitating the transport of people from the Juda point of entry to the Renk transit centre. There, IOM and other humanitarian organizations are offering emergency services before onward movement to people’s final destination, their homes and communities.
“I have my extended family in Bentiu (in northern South Sudan), and I am looking forward to seeing them. This time, not to visit but to stay.”
So far, the Organization has facilitated the onward transportation of nearly 1,000 South Sudanese returnees from Renk to Malakal through river transportation, with the first one departing on 14 May. More are set to depart in the coming days. Deng hopes to be on one of them soon.