RUMBEK, South Sudan — South Sudan's independence attracted thousands back home from the north, but hopes for a new and better life have eluded many still struggling to survive in transit camps.
Under brick- or plastic-walled shelters in the central town of Rumbek, some 60 families are waiting to be resettled three months since returning from the Sudanese capital; some of their belongings still in suitcases and huge sacks.
The centre run by the UN refugee agency was established to offer temporary shelter for returning South Sudanese, but delays in receiving land has prolonged their stay, while the rising influx is worsening living conditions.
"Life is so hard, I have even had to sell my belongings to buy food," said Debora Agum David, who returned to the south after a 22-year-stay in the northern capital Khartoum, to where she had fled from bloody civil war.
Finding a job in the world's newest country has been difficult for Agum, a mother of seven who worked as a nurse in the north.
The local hospital here in Rumbek -- the impoverished capital of Lakes state -- turned her down and now she is contemplating starting a business.
Since October 2010, more than 340,000 South Sudanese have returned home, with more than 17,000 estimated to have returned to the central Lakes state in a single year, according to the International Organisation for Migration.
"We are thinking of expanding, we need more space" at the transit centre, said Xhemil Shahu, UNHCR head of office in Rumbek.
According to authorities, many of those returning from the north had decided to come home due to worries over job security and their legal status.
Upon South Sudan's July 9 independence, Khartoum gave southerners living there nine months to either leave or regularise their status.
Renewed tension and fighting between Sudan and its southern neighbour has prompted aid organisations to ramp up efforts to resettle returning citizens.
At least 11 people were killed in a bombing attack on a refugee camp in South Sudan on November 10. Khartoum has denied it carried out the attack, which drew international condemnation.
North and South Sudan fought a two-decade civil war up to 2005 which left two million dead. Following their split this year, the two states have been unable to agree on a border and the sharing of revenues and debts.
Long-neglected by Khartoum, South Sudan offers few opportunities for its citizens.
Despite its huge oil reserves, the new country lacks public services and infrastructure, and the austerity is brutal for many southerners.
"They came from urban areas expecting the good services they used to get," said Philip Kot Job, the director of the Relief and Rehabilitation Commission, a state organisation.
More than half of South Sudan's eight million people live in poverty, according to World Bank figures.
"The north never invested in the south," said Chol Tong Mayay, the governor of Lakes State.
Authorities in Rumbek, however, have said they will give returning citizens a two-year land rent waiver to help them re-establish at home.
But just outside Rumbek, a town of dirt roads and few permanent buildings, Ajak Majok prefers to live with some 180 people on a piece of land temporarily given to them by the local authority rather than relocate further from amenities.
"It's closer to the main road, if someone is sick, you can rush to the hospital," Majok said.
Aside from difficulties restarting life back home, some have also faced resentment -- especially those who served in the Sudanese police force and army.
Having suffered more than two decades of a brutal civil war, some South Sudanese remain wary of their returning countrymen.
"My priority is to settle, to contribute positively to the development of the country," said of them, Akuocpir Achol.
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