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The Art of Flight

May 2004

Davin A. Hutchins

Caught in a web of violence and poverty, yet still unable to return home, the 3 million Sudanese refugees living in Egypt are keeping a close eye on peace talks as both the government of Sudan and rebels seem to near a final deal.

JERE MALUK'S FADING memories of home are riddled with the scars of war. Under the twilight gleaming through the window of his austere Cairo flat, he quietly talks of the day his once serene village of Juba, in southern Sudan, shattered under the pressure of civil war.

"The rebels started to circle the town from three directions. They came with their tanks, managed to push away the government army and capture the town. They were telling people not to run around certain targets because there was continual bombardment by the government. Most people died," he says.

Maluk left the rebel Southern People's Liberation Army (SPLA) stronghold of Juba for the neighboring town of Torit. After several years, he returned to Juba and found it had become a garrison town for government forces.

"Government security started to target the southerners, especially the working class. I was arrested along with 400 colleagues," he says. "Most were not seen again. I was accused of giving food to the rebels. My life was in danger even though I was trying to help people."

Maluk fled north to Khartoum to rendezvous with his wife and six children. Hundreds of miles from home, his fear for his family's security didn't fade. Slowly, it sunk in: His journey wasn't over.

"I felt frightened, because whether in Khartoum or Juba, it makes no difference. We caught a train to Wadi Halfa, took an Egyptian steamer to Aswan, then arrived in Cairo."


Tens of thousands of Sudanese refugees with stories just like Maluk's are scattered throughout Cairo. Every week, hundreds more bleed across Egypt's border with Sudan by ferry in a human current as timeworn as the Nile itself. Now, the powers-that-be are attempting what at one time was thought impossible - turning the floodwaters back.

For the first time in two decades, the Government of Sudan (GoS) and the secessionist SPLA are face-to-face - not on the battlefield, but at the negotiating table in Naivasha, Kenya. After 19 months of intense deal-making and direct American involvement, official GoS and SPLA delegations may be on the verge of forging a lasting peace that could end Africa's oldest civil war.

Already, both sides have drafted key agreements on how they will share the nation's oil wealth and integrate their security forces. Both the European Union and United States have pledged hundreds of millions of dollars for reconstruction. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has outlined plans to repatriate thousands of refugees in camps just across Sudan's southern borders.

But negotiations are hung up on the future of the tiny, oil-rich area of Abyei and implementation of Shariah in the capital Khartoum. And all the while, a war has been raging in Western Darfur, casting a shadow on the talks and triggering a humanitarian crisis that the international community is comparing to the Rwandan genocide.

The US Committee for Refugees (USCR) estimates there are as many 3 million Sudanese living among the 17 million Egyptians in Cairo, all of them watching events in Kenya closely. Most long for peace. For some, it's peace in a "new Sudan." For others, it's peace of mind under asylum protection in Australia, Canada or the United States.

Because racism, violence and poverty remain constant companions, few consider Egypt home. But home is what it has become. The Sudanese here have become skilled in the 'art of flight' - a reluctant but well-honed talent for moving thousands of miles at a moment's notice, if fate demands it.

The question haunting them now is whether they have the courage to draw on that skill once again.

The river
For many southern Sudanese fleeing northward to Cairo, the city of Khartoum, some 1,604 kilometers away, is a necessary stop.

A casual stroll through Khartoum makes one thing abundantly clear: Sudan is a fully militarized society. Its streets are littered with legions of towering men in colored uniforms - government police, civilian police, security police - each sporting a different brand of firearm.

Even young women wear military garb; girls attending government schools don blue-and-black camouflage hijab. Around the corner from the Grand Mosque, near Khartoum's central market, I watched as a group of a dozen security officers ruthlessly pummel two youths accused of stealing food with plastic batons. Nearby merchants looked on as if the scene was a daily occurrence.

Although hundreds of thousands of Sudanese (estimates range from the USCR's figures in the millions to UNHCR's figure of 450,000) have fled the war to neighboring countries like Uganda, Ethiopia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya and Egypt. Yet, more than 2 million have been internally displaced inside Sudan. Many scrape by in Jabal Ulia, Jabaronna or Wad Al-Bashir - government-run camps for internally displaced persons - IDPs, in refugee argot - on the outskirts of Khartoum.

Jabaronna means "they forced us here." Its residents hail from every ethnic enclave in the south - Neur, Dinka, Nuba. After fleeing disease, famine, and armies raiding villages for oil access, the families have traveled hundreds of kilometers to huddle in shantytowns devoid of adequate healthcare or education. Widowed women beg for work in the nearby suburbs of Had Yusuf or Omdurman to feed their children. Some resort to selling araki, an illegal Sudanese moonshine.

Conditions in the camps are so dire the government rarely allows journalists inside.

The question of peace dominates daily conversation in Jabaronna. At a community forum, an elderly man tells me, "No one takes care of us. The government is supposed to provide wheat, schools and health services, but they do not. When peace comes, there will not be a rush back home to the south, because others will want to see."

A younger man responds: "If peace comes and there are trucks provided to take us to our villages, we are ready to go because we live in a terrible situation. We have young boys in the market who are sniffing chemicals to get high because of their hard life. Even if there is no peace, but free transport, I am ready to go back. This is not my home."

A third expresses his fear of racial divisions: "We [exiles] are living in Khartoum without tribalism. We are all brothers. There is no separation between Dinka or Nuba. In the south, there still is the division that, 'He is from Dinka' or 'He is from Shilluk.' The issue is whether people down south can co-exist together peacefully."

UNICEF Khartoum has gained maneuvering room since the GoS and SPLA began talking, most notably in its campaigns to decommission child soldiers and rebuild schools. But mission chief Joanna Van Gerpen says UNICEF is reaching the limits of what it can do without a real peace agreement in place. The real work will begin, she says, when and if peace comes.

"If the peace process currently under way does not result in a peace agreement, education and health for men, women and children in Sudan won't improve," says Van Gerpen. "One does not make major investment in an area that is politically unstable. There have been sanctions for 10 years. The World Bank is no longer present, so there's no credit for the government. It will take a major capital investment for Sudan to recover from this prolonged period of war."

US sanctions against the Muslim-dominated northern government were first slapped on Sudan in 1989 after Col. Omar Bashir rose to power. In 1997, President Bill Clinton tightened them further for the government's well-documented support of terror networks, including Osama bin Laden's Al-Qaeda.

Among the groups most affected by the sanctions is Sudan National Railways. Decades-old engines are decrepit and replacement parts are nearly impossible to come by. Still, the once-a-week rail line to Wadi Halfa is the only affordable mode of transport for those looking to escape to Egypt.

As our train to Egypt was pulling out from the rail station, I began chatting with the five other men in the 3-by-3 meter, un-air-conditioned compartment we shared. Two men in their early 20s insisted they were going to Egypt "on vacation." The thirteen other boxcars were similarly brimming with scores of other Sudanese "vacationers" - as well as the familiar rainbow of military uniforms ornamented with Kalishnikovs.

On the leg to the city of Atbara, the rail tracks are pinched between the Nile River and the oil pipeline to Port Sudan. The eastern horizon is peppered with oil refineries. Sudan became a net exporter of crude as recently as 1999, after sizeable petroleum discoveries in the south. Many credit petroleum for the sudden international involvement since that time.

This year, the GoS plans on producing 312 million barrels of crude per day. At that rate, Sudan will rake in at least $805 million in annual revenues. So far, the proceeds have been used by the government primarily to finance the war. According to a 754-page report by Human Rights Watch, 60 percent of oil revenue has gone to military spending, which includes campaigns to evict indigenous ethnic groups from potential oil fields.

A few hours after passing Atbara, the train deviated from the pipeline. Then, suddenly, the engine broke down. For two hours, we waited for technicians to replace it with a new engine.

The process became a daily occurrence.

As we waited, the two men on "vacation" confessed that they were leaving Sudan for good, but refused to elaborate until the soldiers couldn't eavesdrop on our conversation.

Ahmed Aziz was from Western Darfur, which had already begun its collapse into chaos: "In the west, where I'm from, the Sudanese forces attack and kill family farmers. up to 200 per day. I came to Khartoum to study, but couldn't. After one year, I decided to leave. If I get a chance, I will go to America and settle there because it is a good country. I will see to it that I send money to my family."

Salim was from Khartoum and apparently in no immediate danger. He said he was simply sick and tired of Sudan. "According to what I heard, it is easy to live in Egypt. I will be able to get work and live on the money that I get. Traveling to America and getting citizenship is very difficult. Despite the restrictions, I expect to go in one to three months. I do not intend to stay long in Cairo. It is just a transit station."

Both men were unaware of UNHCR or the right to asylum. Better-informed passengers thought UNHCR was a type of travel agency.

We passengers spent the first few nights sleeping on top of one another in the cramped compartments or in outside corridors. On the third morning, everyone was hacking and covered with a fine, beige powder brought in by an overnight sandstorm. The hardest part of the trek had begun: traversing the ocean of sand known as the Nubian Desert. At the southern shore of the desert, the Nile juts out to the west and abandons the rail line. Aside from a random stationhouse, there are no signs of civilization for 400 kilometers.

In typical fashion, the third replacement engine broke down literally in the middle of nowhere. After sweltering four hours in scorching temperatures well above 40C, word spread among the passengers that the batteries were completely dead. Three hours after that, a fourth engine connected to the last boxcar and pulled the entire train backwards 100 kilometers to the nearest station. It added a full day to our journey.

After six long days, the train finally reached the barren port of Wadi Halfa on the shore of Lake Nasser. Ahmed Aziz and Salim sold their "vacation" ruse to the authorities one last time.

On the upper deck of the ferry, these nomads from Sudan were visibly buoyed by hope as they cherished their last sunset inside the country's borders. Everyone reclined on top deck that night, sleeping under a full moon with dreams of a better future in Cairo. The next day, the awakening began.

(CAIRO) "Upon my arrival in Cairo, I met many Sudanese refugees complaining about the UNHCR office . about rejection, closed files and endless pending results... It seems to me Sudanese are like sheep without a shepherd. They are lost."

This excerpt is from one of many appeals written by Moses Majak, a father of three from south Sudan. A man who describes himself as "uneducated but literate," he has written letters from a ramshackle flat in a squalid slum on Cairo's outskirts for three years. After applying for refugee status with UNHCR's Cairo office in 2001, Majak's case for asylum was denied and closed. He says the agency didn't tell him why.

Majak once wrote to former US Sen. John Danforth, the US Special Envoy for Peace in Sudan and one of the main architects of the current peace process. During a recent visit to Cairo, Danforth was scheduled to visit Majak's neighborhood. According to Majak, the Senator visited a Sudanese church in Zamalek instead.

Majak's latest campaign is to protect his Sudanese neighbors from gang violence. According to a complaint he sent to UNHCR's protection office, an Egyptian gang leader and a half-dozen other youths repeatedly assaulted Sudanese adults in the streets as well as children near a primary school.

The complaints paint a disturbing picture: One child was smashed over the head with a Pepsi bottle and stoned in the head. He now has trouble hearing. Another woman was beaten in her house and robbed of LE 3,000. A third was pummeled in the face with a pipe and hospitalized. When Moses went to the local police, he was told he had no legal protection and that Sudanese migrants can't bring charges against Egyptian citizens.

"I've recorded more than 20 incidents. There are so many I cannot write them all here," says Majak tearfully, adding that after sending his complaints to UNHCR's security office, it took them months to respond.

UNHCR Cairo refused to comment on the nature of its intervention. The office did dispatch Goodwill Ambassadors and actors Adel Imam and Angelina Jolie to the area in December 2003 to distribute clothing. Residents say Imam's advocacy helped curb violence near the school. However, Majak has documented additional beatings in a nearby neighborhood as recently as March 2004.

"UNHCR tells us they are not responsible, but the fact is that no one is," says Majak.

Egypt acknowledges the right to asylum, but has no domestic asylum laws. It has handed the task of refugee status determination to UNHCR. Majak and his family are one of 15,000 "closed cases" in Egypt - individuals denied legal refugee status who also lost on appeal.

Many were judged under stricter standards than UNHCR applies today.

"It is currently not our intention to revisit the approximately 15,000 or so closed files," says Alistair Boulton, a UNHCR Cairo resettlement officer. "Our resources are stretched to the maximum. There may well have been individual cases of injustice. I acknowledge to some extent [that] whether or not you were recognized as a refugee was the function of timing."

Kiko Bayin is an unemployed father of six from Juba. In vivid detail, he describes how he was tortured with electric shocks and frigid water in Sudan. He is now battling tuberculosis.

"I have a message for UNHCR," he says. "You are not exercising proper justice to screen who is a refugee and who is not. I have not seen a single person without a wife or responsibilities with an open file. UNHCR says they are not responsible for people with closed files. So am I dead? I am still living."

The agency grants legal refugee status according to two standards: If an individual can prove "well-founded fear of persecution," as defined by the 1951 Geneva Convention on the Status of Refugees; or was "compelled to leave his place of residence," as defined by a similar treaty signed by the Organization for African Unity (OAU) in 1969.

"If refugees are accepted under the 1951 convention, they can be recommended for one of three durable solutions - voluntary repatriation, local integration or resettlement to a third country," says Boulton. "If accepted under the 1969 convention, they are not given a durable solutions interview. Our rationale is it is a constraint on resources."

Since 1997, UNHCR Cairo has recognized 29,318 people as legal refugees out of 68,350 people who applied for asylum - a recognition rate of about 43 percent. About half of those recognized (15,054 people) were resettled. In other words, only 22 percent of Egypt's asylum seekers end up traveling to a third country under UNHCR auspices. Some 76 percent of UNHCR Cairo's caseload is Sudanese.

According to their respective embassies, the United States will resettle about 3,000 UNHCR-recognized refugees this year. Canada will take 950 and Australia 750. However, Canada and Australia will resettle an additional 3,000 under special humanitarian sponsorship programs that use looser criteria.

While Sudan's war rages, repatriation to Sudan is not an option. So the tens of thousands with closed cases, recognized under the 1969 convention or who simply never applied for asylum, must attempt to 'integrate locally' in Cairo.

Barbara Harrell-Bond, founder of the Forced Migration and Refugee Studies Program (FMRS) at the American University in Cairo, says that while UNHCR has made marked improvements in the past year, she questions its fundamental mission: "UNHCR is doing status determination. That's not its job. It contradicts its protection role. You can't be the judge and jury and also the protector of refugees. The Egyptian government signed the conventions and should be determining who is a refugee."

A 2002 FMRS report suggests UNHCR Cairo did not follow proper procedures, stating that staff used vague criteria to make decisions about claimants' alleged "negative credibility," withheld evidence from applicants and kept policies from the public.

"UNHCR is not consistently following the procedures that it preaches to governments," says Harrell-Bond. "For example, they do not provide legal reasons for rejection. They post a code. For example, LOC means 'lack of credibility,' or NWF 'no well-founded fear.' UNHCR doesn't allow refugees or their legal advisors to see their file. When you're writing an appeal against a negative decision, the refugee or legal adviser has to have a crystal ball, because you have to guess the specific reason for rejection."

Daniela Raiman used to run another brainchild of Harrell-Bond's: Refugee Legal Aid, a program that offers legal advice and representation to asylum applicants, many of whom are illiterate. She says because of limited resources, the entire process is fraught with delays, last-minute cancellations and lost paperwork.

Interviews can be daunting for an asylum seeker. Many must reconstruct in front of an interviewer memories of torture, persecution and shelling with a high-level of accuracy to corroborate earlier testimony.

Raiman now works at UNHCR as a training assistant.

"People tell refugees, 'These are the rules which we follow,' but at the end of the day there are individuals who are falling between the cracks, and it's hard to explain to refugees, 'Sorry it's not you, it's the system,'" she says. "The refugee wants to know the answer to 'What about me?' Not the policy on 10,000 people. The process should be more human."

"A lot of people were processed under this old reality, and now it's much different," says Boulton. "The rules changed. If there is peace in Sudan, that can throw everything into another light."

Refugees in Egypt are frustrated playing a game in which the rules keep changing. A new terror attack in the United States could paralyze asylum processing once again; migration to the US was frozen solid for six months after the attacks of September 11, 2001.

More pressing: Peace in Sudan may pave the way for those in Cairo to return home. UNHCR is already conducting focus groups about voluntary repatriation, but the situation in Sudan is anything but stable.

James Wani Lejukole, a southern Sudanese man, has conducted research on Sudanese lifestyles in Egypt. "I think the people who are ready to go back to Sudan are the people who will never leave Egypt. Closed files. They don't have any chance. They tried to resettle and they are not able to do so. These are the people who are concerned about the peace process."

"We believe 20 percent of recognized refugees can be resettled, but not the total. The refugees need to accept that," says Ana Liria-Franch, UNHCR Cairo's regional representative. "We have to explain that you are here in Egypt and you need to be happy. Prove to yourself you can integrate here. We cannot say they are stuck here because they are protected here. We think Sudanese here can make a life in general."

When Jere Maluk first arrived in Cairo, he spent his days unemployed at home, tutoring his six children in English and mathematics. Before 1995, Sudanese nationals had special status to enter Egypt and gain access to education and work. But after an assassination attempt that year on President Hosni Mubarak in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, linked to the Sudanese government, that privilege was revoked.

Today, Maluk's children are enrolled in Arabic-language instruction at local churches. Maluk, a university graduate, says his kids are falling behind. Most hours, they are confined to their bedroom unable to play outside for fear of harassment by their Egyptian neighbors.

For Maluk's family, the term "asylum" has taken on a different meaning.

"You are asked to stay here and integrate into Egyptian society. I don't think that is possible," he says. "Southern Sudanese cannot easily fit into Egyptian society. First of all, people are not friendly. They are hostile and insult us. Even our own children cannot walk the streets. Second, there is a problem with employment. Only women are working. Even a woman with a high standard of education [often] cannot get employment."

Maluk's wife, Munumana, use to work as a housecleaner for a local diplomat for about LE 1,200 per month. After enduring repeated 'verbal abuse' from her boss, she left to find new employers at reduced pay. And Maluk himself is lucky - he's one of the few males who have found part-time work. Even with a double income, medical screenings have forced the Maluks to borrow thousands of pounds from friends. The family sometimes skips meals to pay rent for fear of eviction.

Maluk desperately wants out of Egypt.

Lejukole's research suggests that the reversal of gender roles in Sudanese families, combined with other pressures, often causes increased marital stress and sometimes divorce.

A 2001 report from UNHCR's internal policy analysis unit suggested local integration into Egyptian society was a "distant goal" and that resettlement was the only "viable durable solution" for refugees in Cairo.

Liria-Franch says she is emphasizing a "community-services approach." The agency works with a web of non-profit groups and churches, which offer limited medical care, rudimentary education and modest stipends. According to USCR, during the past four years, UNHCR's local budget has decreased by more than 40 percent, while the number of refugees has increased by more than 40 percent.

Still, recognition rates are up.

Harrell-Bond says UNHCR's new approach has not gone unnoticed. She shared an anecdote about Liria-Franch: When a Sudanese woman began screaming and ripping off her clothes in UNHCR's Mohandiseen offices, Liria-Franch did the unthinkable - she hugged her.

Liria-Franch says for offices like hers to help more refugees, the UN has to raise awareness among donor countries: "We identify the needs of refugees to the donors, and they tell us, 'No way, we can't finance that.' I really believe UNHCR is a good agency. I find my colleagues are committed, but I don't know why we have so many problems selling what we are doing."

Local integration may remain a distant goal as long as authorities pretend it is a given. In April, Sudan and Egypt signed a reciprocal agreement so nationals could "move, live and work and own" freely in each of the other's country.

Asked about this positive step, Mohamed Kassem, director of the Sudan desk at the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, says, "This agreement is not expected to change the conditions of Sudanese refugees and migrants residing in Egypt because they enjoy almost the same rights and privileges as Egyptians anyway."

Magda Ali runs the non-profit grassroots Ma'an Center, originally designed as a support center for Sudanese women. Recently, it has expanded into co-ed training using innovative initiatives like drama troupes and sports teams to promote health education and jobs skills among Sudanese.

Now, she's venturing into new territory by partnering with Shamour, an Egyptian NGO that helps people with disabilities. They hope to plan a festival to promote cross-cultural interaction among Egyptians and Sudanese.

"It is specifically designed to help the Egyptian community to accept hosting refugees," says Ali, who is from Wadi Halfa, Sudan. Ma'an staffer Behaira Mohamed said she would like to see a television campaign on Egyptian television promoting respect for Sudanese minorities.

"What makes Ma'an different is we believe a refugee is anyone who comes here, whether they are accepted by UNHCR or not," says Ali. "When we go back to Sudan we will have to educate our youth about the importance of self-reliance. We talk about peace building and repatriation. Every week when we have conversations, it inspires you and gives you hope that you should be able to help others back in Sudan. I have lots of dreams of building a new Sudan."

Liria-Franch adds: "In this globalized world, you cannot avoid that people know there is a better life in another country. They want human rights: a right to a house, a school, to work, to health. If developed countries were helping undeveloped countries have some of the rights of their own citizens, these people would not migrate as much. If you don't want people coming, then you need to develop more where they are."

A Separate Peace
(NUBA MOUNTAINS, SUDAN) In the summer months, the Nuba Mountains' rocky peaks punctuate the lush pastures of Southern Kordofan like proud islands in an emerald sea. Three times a week, an overcrowded bus hobbles its way into the central market of the capital, Kadugli.

Each time one pulls up, dozens of Nuba returnees spill out with all their earthly belongings packed in battered suitcases. Most are from the north - Khartoum or Port Sudan. They say they've returned because they heard there's peace in Nuba.

In reality, it's only a truce, but to many Nuba natives here, it feels like peace. Three years ago, the GoS army nearly exterminated the Nuba people, branding them "infidels" for siding with the SPLA. Villages were burned, civilians killed and humanitarian aid flights banned. Tens of thousands were killed deliberately.

In 2001, both sides reached their limit. Under immense pressure from the international community, GoS and SPLA commanders in the Nuba Mountains signed a fragile cease-fire agreement - a pact renewable every six months. Today, the entire area is carved up into a patchwork of GoS and SPLA enclaves. And the guns have stopped firing.

An unarmed multinational force called the Joint Military Commission (JMC) is monitoring the truce. US Secretary of State Colin Powell says Sudan will need at least 10,000 peacekeepers if a nationwide agreement is signed. Future UN teams will study closely what has transpired here as a potential model for a full-scale mission.

"Both the armies of the SPLA and the government have been very loyal to the cease-fire," says Gen. Jan Erik Wilhemson, JMC's head of mission. "There have been no clashes. This has led to the stabilized situation and encouraged the people to go back and resettle. There have been about 100,000 resettlers in the area and the rate is increasing."

Kadugli is under government control - the JMC headquarters sits a few miles south in the nearby post of Tillo. From their base, JMC staffers clamber aboard Russian-made helicopters and dart back and forth between five sectors. Combined, the sectors are the size of Austria.

>From the village of Umm Serdiba, Cmdr. Dave Asher administers Sector III, held by both GoS and SPLA. Like with all JMC commanders, one of his chief tasks is keeping track of weapons. Each inspector is flanked by one GoS and one SPLA soldier as a confidence-building measure.

"Depending on its size, each weapon should be at a certain location - at battalion level or brigade level," says Asher. "We inspect a depot about once a month. Some of the weapons stores are very dangerous for the monitors to inspect because you have TNT, blasting caps, anti-personnel mines and mortars in the same box. They were just thrown in and the door was closed."

Asher resorts to a mix of power and persuasion to get soldiers to honor cease-fire terms. Any missing weapons are noted; commanding officers are notified about non-compliant soldiers. The JMC doesn't have the authority or manpower to disarm the troops, so if the cease-fire lapses, both sides could easily return to full-fledged conflict with ease.

Miles away from Umm Serdiba, in the heart of SPLA territory, the truce has created a climate of peace as well. A major achievement of the JMC has been the "Humanitarian Highway" - a dirt road cleared from mines and debris so food and medicine can be ferried to the SPLA stronghold of Kauda and surrounding villages.

Both warring parties were obligated to fall back to defensive positions in land they held at the time of the truce. For the SPLA, that means the high ground. SPLA Commander Ismail Khamis Jalab granted a rare interview from his mountain compound. (His GoS counterpart, the governor of Southern Kordofan, did not. GoS military personnel were forbidden from speaking with the press.)

"When we signed the cease-fire agreement, we signed it for humanitarian reasons," says Cmdr. Jalab. "The government was using food denial as a weapon and denying the UN and NGOs to come in. Now, there are a lot of changes, especially in terms of relief and development. The people who were in the top of the mountains can go to the areas where they cultivate and harvest. Also, there is a kind of a reunification of families because during the fighting most Nuba people were forced to go north. Now they are coming back."

SPLA territory has little infrastructure. Usually, a single dirt-and-rubble road links two remote areas. Still, during peacetime, the SPLA has been able to erect a small-wattage pro-SPLA radio station and pave the way for a hospital, run by German Emergency Doctors (GED).

"People used to have to deal with more war and shooting injuries, mines, bombs," says Dirk Schumann, a GED nurse in the ramshackle hospital's emergency ward. "Now . we deal with [gunshot] wounds [infrequently]. Now it's more normal diseases that are common in Africa, such as malaria, infections of the lung or bladder."

With freer mobility, organizations like UNICEF, the World Food Program and others have transformed the region. Once-poisoned wells have been sanitized. Shipments of sacks of grain and supplies are getting in. People are re-thatching the roofs of abandoned huts and replanting peanut and sorghum crops.

But the growing wave of returnees is causing tension. The JMC had to relocate a group of nomadic cow herders from trampling someone's crops and sparking a blood feud. A permanent peace deal could mean a substantial rise in property disputes and foot traffic in areas still littered with mines and mortar rounds.

Graeme Abernethy is the technical adviser for the local UNMAS team - the United Nations Mine Action Service:

"The southern Kordofan state is the size of Maine, and there is a great quantity of anti-personnel mines. The problem is that the information we have been given is very raw. There have been a number of people who are going to unknown areas. Most of those dangerous areas are known to the people in the area, but the problem is the returnees who only know through word of mouth."

If, and when, a full-scale peace mission is rolled out throughout south Sudan, it will face the same issues confronting the JMC now - multiplied by a factor of 10.

"This mission has been different from any UN peacekeeping mission because both [GoS and SPLA] are involved in the monitoring," says JMC chief Wilhemsen. "You are giving both sides responsibility and authority. We have just 40 internationals. Two-thirds of our staff is from Sudan. This does not comply with the UN concept of an impartial third party, so costs will rise. Implementing this throughout the South in an area that is 10 times bigger will not be so easy."

UNHCR High Commissioner Ruud Lubbers has announced a plan to facilitate the repatriation of 570,000 refugees from Uganda, Kenya and the Democratic Republic of the Congo once a peace deal is signed. The agency is gearing up a sub-office in Rumbek in south Sudan to help manage the flow.

Some observers are questioning the wisdom of such large-scale repatriation plans when security in Sudan is by no means guaranteed (fighting resumed in some areas of south Sudan last month). In an October 2003 report, the Global IDP Project, a Norwegian displacement think-tank, argued that the southern region will not be able to handle the influx of IDPs from the north anxious to go home, much less those from camps in neighboring countries.

Others question UNHCR's logic of preparing to return people to south Sudan while simultaneously helping civilians flee the country in the west. The GoS has intensified its campaign in Western Darfur to rout the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA), which is not aligned with the SPLA. Hundreds of thousands of civilians have fled into neighboring Chad. Reports claim women are being gang raped, men have disappeared and villages have been burned.

In a March 2004 report, the International Crisis Group (ICG) said the deadlock in the peace talks are linked to the renewed campaign in Darfur. ICG claims the international community is using "quiet diplomacy" to respond to a "major humanitarian crisis" because the community is afraid tough talk will derail the talks. ICG also suggests the GoS is deliberately stalling the talks to win its war in the west.

"You can never guarantee protection, but you can go a long way in providing it," says Arthur E. "Gene" Dewey, Assistant Secretary at the US State Department'sBureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration. "You have to use all the tools of statecraft, security and humanitarian action. One of the tools we have underused is a human rights program, which relies heavily on the use of human rights monitors. The US is aware every day of the limits of our influence. You can take a horse to water; you can't always make it drink."

If, and when, a final agreement is announced, real peace will demand sustained international support and honest implementation from both sides. For peace to last, both the GoS and SPLA must become stakeholders, internalizing the idea that investing in the peace means more than investing in war.

The experiment in the Nuba Mountains may be cause for some hope. Everyday, in the JMC's dining quarters, GoS and SPLA soldiers - working as JMC staff - sit down for breakfast. Even without guns, many wear their respective army uniforms as a matter of pride. Half the time, they sit at separate tables. But half the time, they sit together, joking, laughing and talking about the future. Then, they go off to work.


Despite the prospects of peace, Jere Maluk has no plans to return to Sudan. He has been recommended for resettlement to the United States by UNHCR. He knows the process could take months - perhaps a year. In the meantime, he'll make due in Cairo, praying his Egyptian neighbors can treat his family and community with dignity.

Then one day, if fate so decides, he will draw upon the art of flight once more and move on.