Number of Sudanese repatriated from Uganda this year tops 20,000
NIMULE, Sudan, April 23 (UNHCR) - More than 20,000 Sudanese refugees have gone back home from Uganda with UNHCR help since the beginning of this year as the pace of return rises.
The milestone was reached today and brings the number of people assisted home by UNHCR from Uganda since the signing of a peace pact for southern Sudan in 2005 to 85,000. Another 65,000 have gone back spontaneously.
Nyatet Makol, a mother of three boys, was officially designated the 20,000th returnee this year from Uganda when she crossed the border at Nimule to a warm welcome from UNHCR and South Sudan officials on Thursday. She was among a group of 600 people returning home on a UNHCR convoy.
"I am very excited to go back to my motherland," said the 36-year-old, who fled conflict in South Sudan 24 years ago and got married in exile. She and her young sons lived in the Mirieyi Refugee Settlement in north-west Uganda.
Like all other returnees, she and her family were give a return aid package put together by UNHCR and sister UN agencies and containing agricultural tools, seeds, plastic sheeting, kitchen utensils and food for three months. Makol was heading to a village near the town of Bor.
UNHCR Representative in Uganda Stefano Severe, meanwhile, welcomed the return figures for this year. "We are very please to see the steady increase in the number of Sudanese returning to their country. UNHCR looks forward to assisting many more returnees," he said.
With Thursday's convoy, a total of 20,469 people have returned home this year with UNHCR help, compared to some 17,000 in the whole of 2007 and about 42,000 last year. Thousands more of the 50,000 Sudanese refugees in Uganda are expected to return before the end of the year.
The long north-south war in South Sudan caused some 500,000 people to flee overseas, but more than 300,000 have returned from neighbouring countries.
By Vanessa Akello in Nimule, Sudan