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Horn of Africa: spontaneous Eritrean returns increase

Briefing notes

Horn of Africa: spontaneous Eritrean returns increase

21 July 2000

Spontaneous returns have been intensifying in Eritrea, while preparations for an organised repatriation of the 92,000 refugees still remaining in Sudan are under way. UNHCR Sudan has registered 3,535 refugees who have returned, but many more have possibly crossed the border back into the Gash Barka region of Western Eritrea.

Last week, a convoy of 35 trucks organised by the refugees themselves drove back from the Sudan to Eritrea. The bridge in Tesseney was reopened on 11 July and the population doubled in the town during last week, from 7,000 to 14,000. This figure includes some refugees from Sudan, but the majority are internally displaced persons who decided to return to their home in the region, following the implementation of the cease-fire.

Following the agreement on repatriation signed between UNHCR and the governments of Sudan and Eritrea on 14 July, the first repatriation convoy organised by UNHCR is due to leave next week from Sudan to Eritrea. The voluntary character of the return movements will be guaranteed. UNHCR-owned trucks and commercially hired vehicles will be made available for the movements. People will be able to return with their belongings, animals and livestock, as well as food and shelter materials that they might have received in the camps. Returnees who are unable to return to their home areas will be supported in three transit centres in northern Gash Barka. UNHCR will provide assistance in these centres, concentrating on emergency shelter and water supply.

UNHCR's 18-member emergency team will continue providing assistance to some of the 550,000 displaced persons inside Eritrea. More tents and plastic sheets are being delivered and eight containers with non-food items from Albania are due to arrive there next week.