Sudan: Return of IDPs in Blue Nile State gathers pace
The organised return of internally displaced people (IDPs) in south-eastern Sudan's Blue Nile State back to their home villages in the southern part of the state is gathering momentum. Eight convoys have brought 747 people home since January 23. The latest was yesterday (Monday). Two more convoys are scheduled for this week.
UNHCR is coordinating the return, reintegration and protection of IDPs in Blue Nile. Blue Nile State is also an area of return for Sudanese refugees in neighbouring Ethiopia.
Within Blue Nile State, an estimated 165,000 people have been internally displaced during two decades of unrest. UNHCR plans to coordinate the return of some 15,000 IDPs this year, following an agreement signed last year by the Government of South Sudan, the Government of National Unity and the UN. The IDP returns are carried out jointly with IOM, which provides transportation, with WFP, with the government and with other partners.
Before departure, the returnees undergo medical screening, receive a three-month food ration from WFP and a package of other items supplied by the UN Joint Logistics Centre (UNJLC). They also receive mine-awareness training.
UNHCR and its partners in Blue Nile registered 35,000 IDPs in late 2006, of whom 21,000 expressed a strong desire to return home despite severe under-development and poor infrastructure in the region.
UNHCR is working with FAO to provide seeds and tools and engaging in a variety of income generating activities for the rural population. As part of its protection monitoring programme, UNHCR is assessing and mapping villages of return. Forty villages have already been profiled. The information gathered is shared with prospective returnees so they know what they can expect when they get home. Return districts are in need of improved water and sanitation, health and educational facilities. So far, only 10 percent of the population in southern Blue Nile State have access to safe drinking water, compared to 40 percent in the northern part. Despite these restrictions, people tell humanitarian agencies that they want to go back to their lands.
Blue Nile State is also a return destination for Sudanese refugees from camps in Ethiopia. More than 4,700 have returned so far. There are still some 67,000 Sudanese refugees in five Ethiopian camps.
In addition to its reintegration activities for returnees, UNHCR is also engaged in road rehabilitation in Blue Nile, where we have 21 staff in 2 offices - Damazine and Kurmuk.
In all, there are 4 million internally displaced southern Sudanese, including 1.8 million in the Khartoum area.
Since December 2005, UNHCR has helped more than 30,000 Sudanese refugees return from neighbouring countries. Another 70,000 returned on their own. There are still 328,000 refugees remaining in Uganda, Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Egypt.