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Q&A: Sudanese returnees benefit from Dutch lottery funds

News Stories, 29 February 2008

© UNHCR/G.Van Moortel
Birgit Deuss of the Dutch National Postcode Lottery meets Bhairaja Panday, UNHCR Deputy Representative, in Juba, South Sudan.

AMSTERDAM, Netherlands, February 29 (UNHCR) The Dutch National Postcode Lottery has been one of UNHCR's most generous private sector donors in recent years. Earlier this month, the Lottery's communications adviser, Birgit Deuss, visited South Sudan to see how the organization's money was being used to help in the reintegration of Sudanese refugees returning from neighbouring countries. She discussed the visit with UNHCR Senior Regional Public Information Officer Gilles van Moortel. Excerpts from the interview:

What were your impressions of the situation in South Sudan?

South Sudan is a real African country, where the people have such a zest for life. This energy is a huge contribution to the peace process. The Comprehensive Peace Agreement [signed in January 2005 by the Sudanese government and the rebel Sudan People's Liberation Movement] includes a referendum on the future of the region. All the southern Sudanese that I met on this trip told me: "This process will succeed; there is no doubt about that." I'm sure they will make it work. That is why each of them wants to return, to build their own country. Despite poor infrastructure and the lack of things like water wells and schools, people are determined to go back and play an active role in the reconstruction of their homeland.

You were able to see up close the "Safe Return to South Sudan" project, a joint venture between UNHCR and three Dutch partners with funding from the National Postcode Lottery. Tell us a bit about this initiative.

Each partner contributes with its different expertise. UNHCR ensures the safe return of refugees to their former villages and homes. On arrival, both UNHCR and Stichting Vluchteling [Netherlands Refugee Foundation] organize mine awareness classes and mine clearance in areas of return. Cordaid Mensen in Nood gives food to returnees who cannot provide for themselves; it also installs water pumps and builds primary health care units.

Free Voice [a Dutch media organization specializing in mass information] broadcasts radio soap operas to inform returnees and the local population about all the different elements essential for a sustainable return. The specific expertise of each of the four organizations is desperately needed in South Sudan, and they complement each other. That is why the Postcode Lottery encouraged these organizations to work together and supported this project with a grant of 4.4 million euros [including 1 million euros for UNHCR's activities].

UNHCR's involvement in the project focuses on provision of landmine clearance and mine awareness programmes. How important is this?

Insecurity is one of the main obstacles to sustainable return. Imagine that you are returning to your home village, to the land where your ancestors are buried if you don't know whether there are mines or not, you cannot move around freely. Or you don't know what to do with an unexploded object like a hand grenade that you just found on your farmland.

UNHCR makes sure that returnees are made aware of the risks linked to landmines and other explosive ordnance. The population is being informed through education activities at community level. Specific areas, like roads and farmland, are being surveyed. When needed, these areas are being cleared of mines and other dangerous items. Securing the living area of the returnees is essential. It is the basis and the start for a new life in safety.

Why does the Dutch National Postcode Lottery support UNHCR?

The way UNHCR provides assistance and protection to refugees is unique. Its action is complementary to the work of other beneficiaries of the National Postcode Lottery working in the field of human rights and development aid. The Lottery supports professional organizations that are passionate about their work. UNHCR is one of them and the Lottery is proud to back its work. I met a lot of UNHCR staff members in South Sudan and I was moved by their enthusiasm and the strength they display in such a harsh but inspiring work environment.




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Bonga Camp, Ethiopia

Bonga camp is located in the troubled Gambella region of western Ethiopia. But it remains untouched by the ethnic conflicts that have torn nearby Gambella town and Fugnido camp in the last year.

For Bonga's 17,000 Sudanese refugees, life goes on despite rumblings in the region. Refugee children continue with school and play while their parents make ends meet by supplementing UNHCR assistance with self-reliance projects.

Cultural life is not forgotten, with tribal ceremonies by the Uduk majority. Other ethnic communities – Shuluks, Nubas and Equatorians – are welcome too, judging by how well hundreds of newcomers have settled in after their transfer from Fugnido camp in late 2002.

Bonga Camp, Ethiopia

Southerners on the move before Sudanese vote

Ahead of South Sudan's landmark January 9, 2011 referendum on independence, tens of thousands of southern Sudanese in the North packed their belongings and made the long trek south. UNHCR set up way stations at key points along the route to provide food and shelter to the travellers during their arduous journey. Several reports of rapes and attacks on travellers reinforced the need for these reception centres, where women, children and people living with disabilities can spend the night. UNHCR has made contingency plans in the event of mass displacement after the vote, including the stockpiling of shelter and basic provisions for up to 50,000 people.

Southerners on the move before Sudanese vote

South Sudan: Preparing for Long-Awaited Returns

The signing of a peace agreement between the Sudanese government and the army of the Sudanese People's Liberation Movement on 9 January, 2005, ended 21 years of civil war and signaled a new era for southern Sudan. For some 4.5 million uprooted Sudanese – 500,000 refugees and 4 million internally displaced people – it means a chance to finally return home.

In preparation, UNHCR and partner agencies have undertaken, in various areas of South Sudan, the enormous task of starting to build some basic infrastructure and services which either were destroyed during the war or simply had never existed. Alongside other UN agencies and NGOs, UNHCR is also putting into place a wide range of programmes to help returnees re-establish their lives.

These programs include road construction, the building of schools and health facilities, as well as developing small income generation programmes to promote self-reliance.

South Sudan: Preparing for Long-Awaited Returns

South Sudan: A Long Walk in Search of Safety Play video

South Sudan: A Long Walk in Search of Safety

Years of fighting between Sudan and rebel forces have sent more than 240,000 people fleeing to neighbouring South Sudan, a country embroiled in its own conflict. After weeks on foot, Amal Bakith and her five children are settling in at Ajoung Thok refugee camp where they receive food, shelter, access to education and land.
South Sudan: Four Years On from IndependencePlay video

South Sudan: Four Years On from Independence

In 2011 the people of South Sudan celebrated their independence. Four years later, the world's newest nation is one of the world's worst humanitarian situations. In December 2013, conflict erupted displacing 2 million people including more than 600,000 refugees. South Sudanese has fled to Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, and Sudan. The crisis has especially impacted the next generation of South Sudanese, 70% of those displaced are children.
South Sudan Crisis: One Year OnPlay video

South Sudan Crisis: One Year On