Eritreans in urban Sudan urged to sign up for voluntary returns

The UN refugee agency reaches out to Eritrean refugees living in urban centres, helping them to register for voluntary repatriation before they lose their refugee status at year's end.

Heading home, Eritrean refugees arriving at Eritrea's Tesseney Reception Centre from Sudan.   © UNHCR/S.Boness

KHARTOUM, Sudan, July 30 (UNHCR) - The UN refugee agency is extending its voluntary repatriation programme to Eritrean refugees in urban Sudan, giving these spontaneously settled people a chance to go home before they lose their refugee status at the end of the year.

UNHCR has been assisting returns among Eritrean refugees in eastern Sudan's camps for the last two years. And as of August 1, those living outside camps - in Sudan's towns and cities - will be able to register for the voluntary repatriation programme as well.

Registration will take place in the greater Khartoum area in central Sudan and in the eastern cities of Kassala, Port Sudan, Gedaref and Medani. The exercise is targeted at Eritrean refugees living in urban centres in Sudan, believed to number several hundred thousand.

So far, UNHCR has helped more than 50,000 return to Eritrea from eastern Sudan's camps. Some 90,000 remain in 18 camps in the area.

The UN refugee agency is urging more Eritreans to register and join its voluntary repatriation programme before they lose their refugee status at the year's end. In May, UNHCR announced that Eritrean refugees will cease to be refugees as of December 31 as the root causes of their problem no longer exist.

Eritrea's 30-year war for liberation ended in 1991 and it declared its independence from Ethiopia in 1993. Both countries signed a cease-fire agreement in June 2000 and accepted the recent decision by the International Border Committee.

Registration for voluntary repatriation will continue till year end, with return convoys continuing until those registered have been transported home. For Eritrean refugees who choose not to return, UNHCR and the Sudanese government have agreed to set up a joint legal screening committee to determine their claims for continued asylum in Sudan.