Mary Venerato Laki, South Sudan returnee: "We want to go to our own homeland"

Years ago, Mary Venerato Laki fled conflict in South Sudan, moving north to Sudan, where she worked as a teacher for 42 years. But after a January 2011 referendum paved the way for South Sudan's independence, Mary, now a 60-year-old widow and sole guardian of four nieces, decided to move back home.

To prevent the family's savings from being stolen by officials, she converted their money into material goods, which she transported as luggage to South Sudan's border port of Renk.

That was over a year ago.

Since then, Laki has been living in a squalid transit camp in Renk County, along with 20,000 other returnees - some of whom have been waiting there for two years. Without the means to transport their luggage onward, they are faced with the difficult choice of remaining in Renk or selling off all that remains of their families' assets to proceed to their final destination.

Laki, like many, has been waiting with her possessions in Renk. She told IRIN her story.

"I am 60 years old, and I come originally from Juba. We went [to Sudan during the] war. Then, [we learned] there is peace in the south, and we had to return home with our children.

"I have the children of my sister, as all of [my family] died. My two sisters, my husband, my brother and my parents are all dead. I am left alone.

"[With] the little money we had, we had to rent the big vehicles that brought us here. I arrived on April 2, 2012.

"It's a terrible life here - there are so many snakes coming from the river. It's terrible. First of all, rain, wind, mosquitoes - we have been suffering with this.

"And since we came here, we have not been given any food. Some of us have been given that, and some of us not.

"There are no services. Since I came here, it's only [in the] last month I got grain and some oil. There is even no plastic sheeting for the houses.

"We are going - we want to go. We want to go to our own homeland. Our children are suffering there, and we are suffering here.

"They said there will be steamers coming to collect us. They used to tell us. that we will be going, we will be going. But until now we are waiting.

"Our money in the north, they don't use it in the south. [For] many of the people, [with] the little money they have, they bought things. If they bring money, it will be taken on the way. This is why the boat [transport barges along the Nile River] has to come to take the things.

"As a family, how can I go to start [a new life] there in Juba? I am an old woman; I'm now 60 years [old]. There's no money. I'm taking this [luggage] for the children. Also, in Juba, if there is nothing, I will sell [our possessions].

"In fact, we have to sell [some now], but [we will earn] little money, and we have to buy food with it. I have already sold some chairs and a bed.

"The clinics here are no good. I have cancer and some back problems, and they cannot help me."