• Text size Normal size text | Increase text size by 10% | Increase text size by 20% | Increase text size by 30%

Agreement in Ethiopia paves way for Sudanese refugees to return home

News Stories, 27 February 2006

© UNHCR/N.Behring
A southern Sudanese refugee family cooks dinner in Bonga camp, in western Ethiopia. They are expected be part of the first group to be repatriated soon to their homeland.

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia, Feb. 27 (UNHCR) An agreement paving the way home for some 73,000 South Sudanese refugees currently in Ethiopia was signed on Monday between the UN refugee agency and the Ethiopian and Sudanese governments. The first repatriation movement from the camps in western Ethiopia is expected to take place in March.

"It gives me immense pleasure to sign this agreement on behalf of UNHCR," said UNHCR's operations director for the Sudan Situation Jean-Marie Fakhouri. "However, this meeting is a ceremony and hopefully all parties will work together for the successful implementation of the commitments made through this agreement."

The tripartite agreement signed in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, sets out the legal framework for the repatriation and the roles and obligations of all three parties. It includes crucial provisions on the voluntary nature of the returns in safety and dignity.

"UNHCR would like to start the voluntary repatriation from Ethiopia by mid-March. Ten thousand refugees could voluntarily go home before the rainy season in South Sudan sets in," Fakhouri said.

The 73,000 refugees live in five camps in western Ethiopia Bonga, Dimma, Fugnido, Sherkole and Yarenja. Most of the refugees arrived in Ethiopia in 1983 and in the 1990s as a result of the civil war in South Sudan.

While the desire to return home is strong, UNHCR is concerned over the severe funding constraints it's facing for its return and reintegration operations in South Sudan. It has received only US$8 million of the US$63 million needed in 2006.

UNHCR, together with the government of Sudan, UN agencies, NGOs and other partners, is trying to ensure minimal conditions are in place so that refugees and other displaced people can return to a minimum of basic services in their war-devastated region.

Fakhouri called on the international community to support the repatriation and reintegration process in South Sudan to ensure its sustainability and contribute to consolidating the peace.

The Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) that ended 21 years of north-south civil war in Sudan was concluded in Naivasha, Kenya, in January 2005 just over a year ago.

"The pledges made in Oslo at the Donors' Conference for Sudan last year must deliver their promises for the over 350,000 Sudanese refugees in the region to go back home and resume normal life," said Ethiopia's state minister of the foreign affairs ministry Dr. Tekeda Alemu, who signed the tripartite agreement.

Brigadier Aleu Ayieny Aleu who signed for Sudan thanked the Ethiopian government and its people for taking care of the refugees for so many years and called on the refugees to return home and help rebuild their country.

Brigadier Aleu also recognised the burden that hosting a refugee population can impose on a country.

"Refugees involuntarily and out of necessity contribute to environmental degradation and it is my earnest appeal to the international community to assist Ethiopia's post-repatriation activities as well," said the Sudanese state minister, who previously was a refugee in Ethiopia's Itang camp.

So far, 14,000 Sudanese refugees have asked UNHCR to help them return home in 2006 the first will be from Bonga camp returning to the Blue Nile Province in South Sudan. UNHCR expects more refugees will sign up for the organised return as soon as the first repatriation convoys start.

To help refugees make an informed visit about returning, UNHCR is planning "go-and-see" visits from Ethiopia to South Sudan in the second week of March. Under this scheme, refugee representatives visit South Sudan and then return to inform the other refugees about the living conditions in the places of return.

Under the agreement signed today Ethiopia pledged to continue to safeguard the rights of refugees who decide to stay in Ethiopia for now. There are some 350,000 South Sudanese refugees in neighbouring countries, and four million more Sudanese displaced within their own country.

By Kisut Gebre Egziabher in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

• DONATE NOW •

 

• GET INVOLVED • • STAY INFORMED •

UNHCR country pages

South Sudan Crisis: Urgent Appeal

Donate now and help to provide emergency aid to tens of thousands of people fleeing South Sudan to escape violence.

Donate to this crisis

Battling the Elements in Chad

More than 180,000 Sudanese refugees have fled violence in Sudan's Darfur region, crossing the border to the remote desert of eastern Chad.

It is one of the most inhospitable environments UNHCR has ever had to work in. Vast distances, extremely poor road conditions, scorching daytime temperatures, sandstorms, the scarcity of vegetation and firewood, and severe shortages of drinkable water have been major challenges since the beginning of the operation. Now, heavy seasonal rains are falling, cutting off the few usable roads, flooding areas where refugees had set up makeshift shelters, and delaying the delivery of relief supplies.

Despite the enormous environmental challenges, UNHCR has so far managed to establish nine camps and relocate the vast majority of the refugees who are willing to move from the volatile border.

Battling the Elements in Chad

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

Chad: Relocation from the Border to Refugee Camps

Since fighting broke out in Sudan's western region of Darfur last year, more than 110,000 Sudanese refugees have fled into Chad. They are scattered along a 600-km stretch of desert borderland under a scorching sun during the day and freezing temperatures during the night.

Access to these refugees in this inhospitable region is difficult. Staff of the UN refugee agency drive for days to locate them. Bombing in the border zone and cross-border raids by militia from Sudan put the refugees at risk and underscore the urgent need to move them to camps in the interior. In addition, the approach of the rainy season in May will make the sandy roads impassable. Aid workers are racing against time in an attempt bring emergency relief to these refugees.

Chad: Relocation from the Border to Refugee Camps

South Sudan: Food Security Play video

South Sudan: Food Security

Jacob is plowing 20 kilometers far from his own home town, Bor, after having to abandon it due to the ongoing fighting in South Sudan. Now in Mingkaman camp,as a displaced person, this land he plows is all he has after losing farm and cattle back home
Canada: Light Years Ahead
Play video

Canada: Light Years Ahead

With help from the Government of Canada, lives of refugees in Chad and Ethiopia have been transformed through the Light Years Ahead project.
Ethiopia: South Sudanese Refugee InfluxPlay video

Ethiopia: South Sudanese Refugee Influx

Despite a ceasefire agreement signed in early May, fighting continues between government and opposition forces in South Sudan. The renewed conflict has forced thousands of refugees to seek shelter in Ethiopia.