UNHCR South Sudan repatriation operation threatened by funding shortfall
GENEVA, September 15 (UNHCR) - The UN refugee agency on Friday said it urgently needs additional donor support if it is to avoid drastically curtailing operations in southern Sudan. The call comes as the repatriation of tens of thousands of Sudanese refugees from neighbouring countries begins to gain momentum.
"The South Sudan repatriation operation is one of the few bright spots in a strife-torn region struggling to cope with enormous suffering and displacement," a UNHCR press release said, adding: "The funding shortfall could mean suspending, postponing, reducing or cancelling some South Sudan programmes by the end of this month."
Long-term, the UNHCR operation is aimed at helping some of the 350,000 Sudanese refugees still in neighbouring countries to go home, and at providing assistance in Sudan to some of the estimated four million internally displaced.
Of US$65.9 million sought for the operation for this year, UNHCR has received nearly US$30 million and had spent some US$22 million of that by the end of July, the press release said.
"The remainder is now nearly depleted and only partially covers costs for August and September - estimated at US$15.8 million. And to meet the most critical needs for the last quarter of the year, UNHCR requires an estimated US$5.2 million a month," it added.
Since December 2005, UNHCR has helped more than 12,000 Sudanese refugees to go home from neighbouring countries. With the approaching end of the rainy season, thousands more are expected to return by the end of the year with UNHCR help. Together with other agencies, UNHCR also assisted 12,000 internally displaced Dinka Bor people return home, along with their 1.5 million head of cattle.
The signing of a peace agreement in January last year ended 21 years of war in the south and paved the way for the return of millions of internally displaced people (IDPs) and refugees in surrounding countries. But the two decades of conflict left the south in ruins, and those who have made the choice to return home have faced real hardship. UNHCR and its partners are working to ensure their return is sustainable, including through the provision of basic services.
But unless additional contributions are received soon, UNHCR will have to take measures to avoid overspending. In addition to severe curbs on its programmes, the agency fears it may also have to close several offices and reduce staff in the region. At present, UNHCR has a network of three sub-offices and nine smaller field offices. It has 175 staff in the area.
High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres stressed the "urgency of additional support to meet crucial needs until the end of the year."
"We have dedicated available resources to improving conditions in targeted return areas, which also contributes to the United Nations' overall collaborative endeavours to stabilise southern Sudan," Guterres said of UNHCR's operation. "It is crucial that this effort continue for the people of southern Sudan who have made the brave choice to return home and rebuild their lives."
UNHCR has been repatriating south Sudanese refugees from five neighbouring countries; Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Central African Republic. In addition, it is providing information on return to hundreds of thousands of IDPs in the Khartoum and Kassala regions.
In addition to those repatriated by UNHCR, an estimated 100,000 refugees from neighbouring countries have returned to South Sudan on their own, before or shortly after the signing of last year's peace agreement.
As well as assisting people to go home, UNHCR has been introducing basic services in areas of return. With its partners, it has implemented over 100 community-based reintegration projects, including construction or rehabilitation of boreholes and shallow wells, health centres, clinics and hospitals, and primary and post-primary schools. Assistance has also been provided in the rehabilitation of roads and UNHCR conducts mine awareness training.