• Nabie Loyce | Media and Communications Assistant

Renk, South Sudan – “When conflict broke out in my hometown in Bentiu, South Sudan, in 2015, we lost everything. I struggled to get my family out of the country. We moved to Sudan, which was safe and peaceful,” recalls Nyakoang Gai. “I found a job in the capital, Khartoum, and I was able to put my children in school.” 

Eight years later, it did not occur to Nyakoang that she would have to leave Sudan and return to Bentiu for the very same reasons she left.

Nyakoang is one of over half a million people who have arrived in Renk, Upper Nile State, in South Sudan following the ongoing fighting in Sudan, that erupted in April last year. She’s originally from South Sudan and had been living and working in Sudan when the conflict there started.

“We would hear gunfire on a daily basis very close to our house. Armed men would regularly break into people’s homes and start looting everything. Things simply got worse over the last few months. Major water shortages, no electricity, no food in the market, no functioning hospitals. I knew if we stayed, we would be killed or die of hunger. Therefore, I had no choice but to try to return home.”

Nyakoang with her four children and grandchild wait to board an IOM bus from the transit centre in Renk to go to the river side where they will take the boat to start a three-night journey to Malakal. Photo: IOM/Elijah Elaigwu

Nyakoang embarked on a two-month long journey to return to South Sudan. Her story is similar to that of thousands who have returned to the country. Their return is clouded by sour memories of the past as it is not the first, in some cases not the second, time they have been displaced. Many of the South Sudanese who have returned originally fled conflicts at home in Bentiu, Malakal, and other parts of South Sudan between 2013 and 2016, when the country was plunged into its own civil war. Many South Sudanese ended up living as refugees in Sudan. Some fled their homeland because of poverty and others were driven out by the effects of climate change, including floods. Many found work, peace and security in Sudan.

Their lives have all now been shattered, and they are having to re-live the trauma of fleeing violence and conflict over again.

Nyakoang is being assisted by the International Organization for Migration (IOM). When she and many thousands like her arrive at the border, with the help of other organizations, they are registered and given medical attention, including vaccinations, but most importantly for them, transport to continue the journey home. This is one of the most critical needs of thousands arriving and who might be stuck at the border between the two countries.

Nyakoang waits to receive her voucher from an IOM staff to allow her to board the boat from Renk to Malakal. IOM/Elijah Elaigwu

IOM has mounted one of the largest and most complex logistical operations to help people like Nyakoang and her family, and others, get back to their communities and places of origin across South Sudan. Starting from the border town of Joda, IOM provides transport to reach the nearby Transit Centre in Renk. After a few days in Renk, for Nyakoang specifically, IOM will provide boat transport on the River Nile to Malakal, where she and others will start the final leg of their journey back home.

There is such little infrastructure in South Sudan, and the cost of transport is high. Transporting the many thousands of those who have returned by boat is one of the most efficient ways to get the high volume of people arriving from Sudan, home. Over 1,200 flights have been organized and over 26,000 people have been helped to get home by road.

“When we started our journey, we truly had no idea how we were going to reach Bentiu. We had no money. On the way, we were robbed several times and completely stripped of all our belongings. I was wondering whether we were actually going to make it to South Sudan, but by God’s grace we did,” says Nyakoang. “I was very surprised to find people (IOM) at the border ready to help us and give us free transport. We are extremely grateful.”

By the time Nyakoang reaches Bentiu from Renk, she and her family would have spent 75 hours traveling over 1,600 kilometres.  

IOM will provide Nyakoang and others returning USD 20 each for final-mile transportation.

“I did not expect to find myself going back to Bentiu after all these years in Sudan. I’m worried because I know that there are lots of problems here in South Sudan and there is a lot of poverty, and I am not sure whether there is peace in Bentiu. I hope so.”

yakoang and her family wait for their turn to board an IOM bus to go to the river side where they will take the boat on the River Nile to Malakal. Photo: IOM/Elijah Elaigwu

Right now, she is grateful to be to be back in South Sudan amidst the challenges and ready to start her life over again.

Her extended family – who have not seen her for many years – will be waiting to receive her. Without the transport support, she may not have made it back to Bentiu. This help is critical for the many thousands who are arriving and want to reach their places and communities of origin.

Nyakoang’s daughter and grandchild wait for their turn to board an IOM bus to go to the river side where they will take the boat on the River Nile to Malakal. Photo: IOM/Elijah Elaigwu

IOM’s response activities are supported by the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration (PRM), United Nations Emergency Response Fund (UN CERF), European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations (ECHO), Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO), South Sudan Humanitarian Fund (SSHF), Germany Federal Foreign Office and Global Affairs Canada.


SDG 3 - Good Health and Well Being
SDG 10 - Reduced Inequalities
SDG 16 - Peace Justice and Strong Institutions