The government said it would allow a nine month period when Southerners could renew their status, but failed to set up a system to enable people to do that.
Now amid the heightening confusion as the halfway mark during that period approaches, having abandoned their homes, jobs and all but the belongings they can carry, thousands of families are heading to the port of Kosti on the border.
There they wait an average 108 days for a barge to take them down the Nile to South Sudan. Kosti camp where many of them are staying was made to house up to 1,600 people but is home to eight times that number. Thousands more are waiting in Khartoum for help.
Their circumstances are a humanitarian crisis waiting to happen said Britain’s International Development Minister Stephen O’Brien after visiting a camp where families are stuck north of the border.
“What I saw in Kosti was the very real human face of the ongoing problems between Sudan and South Sudan.
“Many have given up their homes and jobs to start a new life in South Sudan. They have been waiting for months with little money, food and shelter, and are using their precious savings, if they had any at all, to provide for their families’ basic needs,” Mr O’Brien said.
He called on both nations to help end their people’s suffering and urgently agree a flexible system that lets people move freely between the two countries.
“It is critical that they find ways to move forward on this,” he added, “to enable Sudanese and South Sudanese alike to move forward with their lives and contribute to the establishment of two peaceful and prosperous nations. The UK will continue to support Sudan and South Sudan as they do so.”
With up to 200 more people arriving at the makeshift camp every week, there is intense strain on water, sanitation and health supplies. And at the present rate it is impossible to transport the 300,000 southerners who want to go there before the April deadline since it took 12 months for 350,000 to return between October 2010 and 2011.