Refugees fly home to Darfur as security situation improves
SOUTH DARFUR, Sudan – Mother of six Hamila fled insecurity in Darfur a decade ago, seeking safety in the neighbouring Central African Republic, or CAR.
But this week, she was among more than 230 former refugees returning home on a UNHCR flights from a camp near Bambari.
"I am so happy for the chance to return to Sudan, especially for my children,” said Hamila, who had four more children while in exile. “Even if we face challenges at least we will be in our home country, among our relatives."
UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, this week started the voluntary repatriation of Sudanese refugees from a camp in Bambari, in the Central African Republic, or CAR.
The repatriation flights began on December 12. Before the end of the year, 66 UN Refugee Agency chartered flights are scheduled to bring some 1,500 refugees home.
Nearly 3,500 refugees had fled from South Darfur to CAR in 2007 during the conflict between the Sudanese forces and armed groups. Refugees were being hosted in Pladama Ouaka camp, close Bambari, a town of 40,000 people on the Ouaka River.
In late November, refugees expressed their intention to return. The decision followed an improvement in the security situation and the disarmament of armed groups in Darfur.
"I am so happy for the chance to return. Even if we face challenges at least we will be in our home country, among our relatives."
Returning refugees are currently being hosted in a transit centre in the capital of South Darfur State and will subsequently be returning to their home villages in Dafag, South Darfur – located at some 350 kilometres from Nyala.
UNHCR is working with the governments of Sudan and CAR in assisting the returnees with air and land transportation and return packages. Returning refugees will also have access to land.
“We are working with government authorities and other partners to enhance service provision in the return area,” UNHCR spokesman Babar Baloch told reporters at a news briefing in Geneva today.
“Sudan has pledged to implement international standards governing refugee returns - including the benefit of amnesties, as well as UNHCR’s role in monitoring the returns,” he added.
The war in the Darfur region of Sudan broke out in February 2003, when rebel groups began fighting the government of Sudan. The ensuing conflict killed tens of thousands and displaced millions of people within Sudan and over its borders.
A growing number of refugees and internally displaced people have been returning spontaneously to South Darfur in the last few years, Baloch told reporters at the Palais des Nations.
“This is in part due to gradual security improvements, as a result of signed peace agreements between the governments of some armed groups, as well as the efforts of the peacekeeping mission led by the United Nations-African Union hybrid force.”
Around two million people are currently displaced inside the country, while more than 650,000 Sudanese refugees live in the neighbouring countries - including Chad and South Sudan.
Many areas in South Darfur have also become more welcoming for those returning, due to a growing number of early recovery and development initiatives.