Number of returnees to South Sudan passes the 300,000 mark

The number of refugee returns to South Sudan passes the 300,000 mark, including 142,000 assisted home by the UN refugee agency.

Repatriation Milestone: Antazia Dulu, aged 72, became the 300,000 southern Sudanese refugee to return home.   © UNHCR/S.Lemena

NIMULE, Sudan, February 10 (UNHCR) - The number of refugee returns to South Sudan since the signing of a peace accord in 2005 has passed the 300,000 mark, including 143,000 assisted home by the UN refugee agency.

The milestone was reached on Saturday when an eight-truck UNHCR convoy carrying 241 Sudanese civilians arrived at the border town of Nimule in Sudan's Eastern Equatoria state after leaving a refugee camp in northern Uganda's Adjumani district.

Antazia Dulu was officially designated the 300,000th returnee from Uganda and other countries in the region. "I was not happy in Uganda because I was a foreign beggar in someone else's home, but now I am back home and not a beggar any more," the delighted 72-year-old said on her arrival in this Magwi County town after almost two decades in exile.

Dulu will return to her home village, where her two surviving sons live. "I will need the support of UNHCR and the government to take care of me," she said, adding that she also expected her sons to help. "They are now old enough to take care of their mother, who struggled for them during times of hardship."

Of the 300,000 returnees, more than 43,000 have gone back to Sudan through the Nimule crossing point with the help of the UN refugee agency since August 2007. UNHCR's assisted voluntary repatriation programme for South Sudan began in December 2005, almost a year after the end of the long North-South war.

Kazuhiro Kaneko, head of the UNHCR field office in Nimule, noted that previous returnees had settled in well and had received reintegration assistance from the refugee agency, including funding for wells, schools and medical clinics.

Meanwhile, a tripartite commission gathering representatives of UNHCR and the governments of Sudan and Kenya met in the South Sudan capital of Juba on Saturday to discuss the repatriation of southern Sudanese refugees from Kenya.

The three sides set a repatriation target of 5,000 refugees from Kenya for 2009. There are an estimated 23,000 Sudanese refugees remaining in Kenya, mostly in Kakuma camp in the north-west. The commission members also backed further efforts to ensure continued sustainable repatriation, including the development of educational facilities in South Sudan.

By Ronald Drichi in Nimule and Kazuhiko Shimizu in Juba, Sudan