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Ethiopia: Two camps close after successful repatriation to South Sudan

Briefing notes

Ethiopia: Two camps close after successful repatriation to South Sudan

6 May 2008

In western Ethiopia, UNHCR has officially closed two of the four camps hosting refugees from South Sudan following a successful repatriation season in which some 23,000 refugees from the two camps - Bonga and Dimma - went home. The returns were assisted by UNHCR, mainly to Blue Nile state and to a number of other states in South Sudan. About 2,000 refugees made their way home using their own means.

Before the start of the return operation in March 2006, the two camps, which opened in the early 1990s, had a combined population of nearly 28,000 refugees. Last week's closures bring to three the number of camps which have been emptied in western Ethiopia since last year. Yarenja was closed in March 2007.

The repatriation operation has now halted for the rainy season and is scheduled to resume again in November. Some 3,000 refugees remaining in the two camps will be transferred either to Fugnido in the Gambella region or to Sherkole camp in the Benishangul-Gumuz region. Some of the refugees awaiting camp transfer have indicated that they will be returning home to Sudan later in the year using their own means.

UNHCR is now working with the government and other partners, particularly the UN Country Team in Ethiopia, to rehabilitate the camp environment and infrastructure, including water systems, schools, health centres, warehouses, office and residential premises, skills training workshops and equipment. These facilities will be handed over to the local administration for use by the local community.

The regional administration in Gambella has already decided to convert Bonga camp into an agricultural training centre. UNHCR is enlisting the support of other organisations such as UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) to help transform the camp facilities. In Dimma, there are proposals to use the facilities to set up a technical training college.

In a separate development yesterday (Monday), the return home of Sudanese refugees from Sherkole camp in north-western Ethiopia came to a halt ahead of the rainy season, which makes the roads impassable. Between mid-March and 5 May, a total of 4,523 of the more than 6,000 refugees were helped to return, mainly to the Upper Nile State in South Sudan. So far, UNHCR has helped more than 30,000 Sudanese refugees to return home from Ethiopia since the launch of voluntary repatriation.

Overall, some 275,000 Sudanese refugees have returned to South Sudan Since 2006 from various surrounding countries, including Uganda, Ethiopia, Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Kenya. Some 125,000 have returned with UNHCR assistance. This year alone, some 47,000 Sudanese refugees have returned home, mainly with UNHCR assistance.