South Sudanese in UAE fear diplomatic limbo

Young country has yet to open an embassy in the Emirates.

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DUBAI // South Sudanese nationals living in the UAE are anxious about an April deadline for obtaining new passports as their young country has yet to open an embassy in the Emirates.

A senior Sudanese official said last month that starting on April 8, South Sudanese would be treated as foreigners by Sudan, the country from which South Sudan broke away in July.

The announcement mentioned South Sudanese living in Sudan, but did not clarify if the passports of those living elsewhere would also become invalid.

Without a South Sudanese presence in the Emirates, citizens needing new documents have had to fly to their home country.

South Sudan intended to open one of its first embassies in the UAE after gaining independence, the vice president, Riek Machar, said in a visit to Dubai last June.

Embassies elsewhere have opened since, but may simply have been existing diplomatic offices that were upgraded in status. The embassy in the US "opened" on July 9 by transitioning from a mission. Likewise in South Africa, a liaison office had already existed.

The deadline to obtain new documents was issued by the Sudanese director of the General Administration for Passports and Immigration, General Ahmed Attal-Mannan, in mid-January. The move would affect some 700,000 southerners living in Sudan, the UN estimates.

The countries have clashed over transit fees for oil shipped from the South to ports in the North.

Majok Nikodemo Arou, a UAE resident from South Sudan, said he had asked foreign ministry officials about plans for an embassy in the UAE during a trip home last month, and by phone in recent days.

"They told me soon, soon, soon," he said.

If that does not happen, he said, he would fly back to the South Sudanese capital of Juba to obtain a new passport.

Another UAE resident from South Sudan, Christopher Kwoji Lejukole, said that even if other nations recognised his Sudanese passport beyond April, he would need to renew the document in August. He too planned to make a trip home.

"I don't know when they are going to open, and my Sudanese passport is going to run out," he said. "And once it does, I won't be able to go anywhere."

Officials from the South Sudan government could not be reached for comment.