Convoy carries 10,000th Sudanese refugee repatriated with UNHCR help
YEI, Sudan, July 5 (UNHCR) - A convoy of happy refugees created a little bit of history earlier this week by pushing the number of Sudanese refugees repatriated under a UNHCR programme launched in December past the 10,000 mark.
"I am very happy to be back in my motherland," said George Taban Cleopas, 42, as he jumped down from one of the trucks after the convoy arrived late Tuesday afternoon at the Alero way station close to this southern Sudanese town.
The convoy, carrying 262 refugees, had left earlier in the day from Moyo in northern Uganda. Most of the Sudanese were seeing their homeland for the first time in years. Hundreds of thousands of people fled southern Sudan in the 1980s and 1990s to escape fighting between the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) and the Khartoum government.
But, after delays due to security and logistical concerns, UNHCR began repatriating Sudanese refugees from neighbouring countries in December and the rate of returns has been steady since then. This latest convoy brought the number of UNHCR-assisted returnees to 10,113.
Cleopas left his home area of Kopera - 20 miles west of Yei - and crossed to Moyo in 1993, when the war in southern Sudan was at its peak. He said his immediate concern was to plant crops in a bid to become self-sufficient and make some money. He said he needed the cash as outstanding dowry for his Ugandan wife.
"I have seven children with my Ugandan wife and her parents are demanding three cows and US$250. I could not pay, so they took her and my children away at the last moment of our repatriation," he added. Other returnees were facing similar dowry problems and had left partners in Uganda.
Regina Kila Louis, 22, was happy to be reunited with her grandparents and other relatives during a warm welcome. The mother-of-two fled with her parents to Uganda when she was only six. She hopes to get a micro-loan so that she can build a home and start a business. Her Ugandan husband owes dowry and she will not rejoin him unless he pays her family.
The refugees will stay at the way station for two or three days while UNHCR staff determine their final destinations. They will then be transported in UNHCR trucks to their home villages around the towns of Yei, Maridi, Yambio and Juba.
"Here [at the way station] they are given all the basic services, including health education, mine risk education and HIV/AIDS awareness," said UNHCR's Jennet Siama Zebedeo.
This was the seventh UNHCR-run repatriation convoy from Uganda to south Sudan since March, when the refugee agency and the governments of Uganda and Sudan signed a tripartite repatriation agreement.
UNHCR has also been organizing voluntary repatriations from countries of asylum such as Ethiopia, Kenya, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Central African Republic. There are still some 340,000 Sudanese refugees in camps in neighbouring countries.
The repatriation operation followed the signing in January last year of a peace agreement between the SPLA and the Sudanese government.
By Peter Butili Farajallah in Yei, Sudan