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UNHCR's official voluntary repatriation of refugees to South Sudan to start Saturday

Briefing notes

UNHCR's official voluntary repatriation of refugees to South Sudan to start Saturday

13 December 2005

We are pleased to announce that our official voluntary repatriation of refugees to South Sudan is to begin this Saturday, 17 December from Kakuma Refugee Camp in north-western Kenya. We expect the number of refugees going home this week to be small - not more than 150 - but this first official movement is symbolic of refugees' desire to re-establish themselves in their homeland, and our desire to help them do so.

There are scheduled to be two movements of returnees - one by air and one by road. On Saturday, two passenger planes are to take refugees home from Kakuma to Bor (in Jongley State), with their possessions being transported by cargo plane the day before.

On Saturday, a land convoy carrying refugees in buses and their possessions in trucks is scheduled to leave the camp and enter South Sudan at Nadapal, where the returnees are to be welcomed home by South Sudanese authorities. Shortly after entering South Sudan, the convoy is to split into two, one heading for Kapoeta, and the other for Chukudum, both towns in Eastern Equatoria.

We plan to give returnees basic household goods to help them survive at home, as well as two weeks' worth of food to last until the UN's World Food Programme is able to distribute a larger supply to the returnees inside South Sudan in January.

Sudan's 21-year civil war in the south came to an end in January this year with the signing of peace accords. Even before the signing, UNHCR had been working with other UN agencies and non-governmental organizations to prepare South Sudan to receive returnees. Half a million refugees who have been living in refugee camps and settlements in neighbouring countries are likely to return in coming years, along with up to four million people displaced within Sudan.

Some refugees have gone home - particularly from the Democratic Republic of the Congo - on their own without waiting for our assistance, but many - such as those in Kenya - are taking a more cautious approach because of the lack of infrastructure and services in the south. The long-neglected area either never had sufficient services, or saw its elementary infrastructure destroyed by decades of war.

UNHCR's approach, working with other agencies, has been to undertake projects that will help entire communities, without differentiating between residents who never left and those who are coming back. We have built schools, water points, hospitals and vocational training centres to help them rebuild their lives and stay home. The new services are also intended as a spur to economic development, and should help promote reconciliation between returnees and local communities.

Earlier this month, we took delegations of refugees from Kakuma to South Sudan on what we call "go-and-see visits" to help them decide on their own whether conditions are right for return.

There are some 72,000 Sudanese refugees in Kakuma camp. The main asylum countries for refugees from South Sudan are Uganda (204,400), Ethiopia (90,500), Democratic Republic of the Congo (69,400), Kenya (74,000), Central African Republic (36,000), Egypt (30,324) and Eritrea (714).