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.