“IDP” is humanitarian aid jargon. It means “Internally Displaced People”, or refugees in their own country. These are people that fled from one part of the country to another. The reason might be man-made such as a conflict or civil war, or it might be natural like flooding, drought causing famine or an earthquake (though the last one not in South Sudan). IDPs have two options for their future. They can return to where they came from, become “returnees”, or stay in the place they fled to and become inhabitants of that new place. At least, that’s how it works in other countries. But in South Sudan there is the concept of the “permanent IDP”. To be clear, a “permanent IDP”is still a refugee in it’s own country, but one that has lost the wish to return where he/she came from some time ago. For people that now start to wonder what is the difference with the above mentioned people that became inhabitants of their new residence, there isn’t. The concept of the “permanent IDP” doesn’t say anything about the people themselves, but a lot about South Sudanese society.
When you ask people here where they come from, the answer will mostly be the place where there family originates from, usually a small rural village. It doesn’t necessarily mean they are born there themselves, or even their parents are born there. That’s not what it’s about. Where you come from has a relation with the tribe, but also with the land, the place the tribe originates from. People from South Sudan still feel themselves part of that rural community, even if they live in a city or outside the country. Sometimes they still have their own piece of agricultural land, they still have the right to participate in the election of the local leader. People still feel related to their hometown and that will also influence their life in a new place. In Wau at least half the population is “permanent IDP”, originating from very different areas. They settle in different neighbourhoods, divided by region of origin. Those neighbourhoods are quite often named after their original village. In a city it’s not a huge problem to let them settle there, because the government controls the use of the land and can make land available for them.
Relocation to the rural areas is much more difficult. Not only there will be cultural differences, for instance between pastoralists and farmers, that make mixing of groups difficult. Bigger problem is the fact that the land is owned by the community. The original community. Including people that have left years ago, but not including newcomers whose family doesn’t originate there. The only way newcomers will be able to work at the land is if the get it from the original community. Most of the times that not a huge problem if it is about a few people or families (provided the tribes don’t dislike each other too much) because there is land available. That situation changes if there are large groups of people displaced. On a regular basis people in South Sudan have to flee from a threat, caused by different types of crises. Most of the times people flee to relatives living in another place, but that’s not always possible. Temporary relief, including shelter and land to cultivate, is possible in most communities, often supported by UN or international aid agencies. Problems can arise if IDP’s don’t return, but want to stay at their temporary location. If large groups want to do that, there might develop conflict between both communities, even if the IDP’s have been there for years. De former refugees will never become regular inhabitants, but remain “permanent IDP’s”. In times when food is scarce for example, the message of the receiving community will be: go back to where you came from. Where did I hear that before?