UNHCR resumes repatriation of Sudanese from Kenya
NAIROBI, Kenya, November 28 (UNHCR) - The UN refugee agency has resumed the repatriation of Sudanese from the Kakuma refugee camp in north-west Kenya after poor weather and road conditions and insecurity in return areas halted the operation for three months.
About 200 refugees were flown to the town of Bor in South Sudan's Jonglei state on Wednesday and Thursday last week and many more are keen to follow them. More than 8,000 of the 50,000 Sudanese refugees in Kakuma have registered to return from Kenya despite political tension between the central government and former rebels in South Sudan over the implementation of the 2005 peace accord.
UNHCR hopes to help some 3,000 more return home by air and land between now and the end of the year. The agency brought back slightly more than 4,000 before the returns were suspended in August.
The mood in Kakuma camp was upbeat last week. "The refugees are really keen to go back home," said Mohammad Arif, UNHCR's senior operation officer in Kakuma. "Some of them have been here for more than 15 years. That is such a long time to be in exile."
Ayen Gai Deng arrived at Kakuma in 1992 when she was only 11 years old and she has literally become a woman during her time in the camp, where she met her husband Majok Manyiel and gave birth to her six children.
Manyiel is already back in South Sudan, working for an aid agency in the town of Juba. "He sent us a message and told us that we should now go and join him in Sudan," Deng explained as she breastfed her youngest child while waiting to board the November 21 flight to Bor. She plans to spend some time in her native village before moving to Juba with the children.
Some of the passengers were much older. "Sudan is my home and I am ready to go back so that I can be buried with my ancestors when I die," said 77-year-old Mabil Ajak, as his son helped pack his bags ahead of their return.
In the days leading up to last week's flights, the returnees were given awareness courses on HIV and AIDS, and on the danger of landmines. They were also told about their rights and obligations back in South Sudan, which still lacks infrastructure and basic services after more than two decades of conflict.
Since launching an assisted voluntary repatriation programme for South Sudan in December 2005, UNHCR has supported the return of some 70,000 refugees to South Sudan, including 6,000 from Kakuma. More than 90,000 are believed to have returned on their own, including some 20,000 from northern Kenya.
The UN refugee agency is also involved in programmes aimed at easing the reintegration of returnees and encouraging more people to go back, including mine clearance activities and building and rehabilitating basic facilities such as schools, health centres and boreholes.
By Emmanuel Nyabera in Nairobi, Kenya