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High Commissioner concludes African visit

Briefing notes

High Commissioner concludes African visit

14 November 2003

UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Ruud Lubbers concludes his four-nation Africa visit today (Friday) in the Eritrean capital, Asmara. The High Commissioner, who has already been to Burundi, Tanzania and Sudan, plans to meet Eritrean President Isaias Afewerki this afternoon. During his meeting with the Eritrean leader, Lubbers is expected to seek the support of the Eritrean government in reintegration projects aimed at making the ongoing return of Eritrean refugees from Sudan more sustainable.

Yesterday, the High Commissioner led a return convoy of 884 returnees across the border from the Sudanese town of Laffa and into western Eritrea. This was convoy No. 107, which brings the total number of returnees - spontaneous and assisted - to Eritrea to well over 100,000. More than half have returned home with UN refugee agency assistance since we launched a major return operation in May 2001.

Many of yesterday's returnees were from Sudan's Shagarab and Wad Sharife camps, with others coming from Port Sudan. Some had been born in exile, while others were seeing their homeland for the first time since fleeing the outbreak of war 30 years ago. Repatriation convoys are expected to continue over the coming weeks to bring back the more than 36,000 refugees who have so far requested UNHCR repatriation assistance.

Returnees travelling on yesterday's convoy were transported to a transit centre in Tesseney, close to Eritrea's western border, where they will receive a cash grant, basic household items and a two-month supply of food from the UN World Food Programme. On their return to their home villages, mainly in the Gash-Barka region of south-western Eritrea, they will receive a further 10 months of food rations as well land to build homes and farm.

The High Commissioner yesterday visited returnee areas in Eritrea's west, touring projects in Gerset, an area whose population has been pushed up dramatically from 40 persons to more than 5,000 by the arrival of former refugees. Lubbers also saw a health centre, a women's income generation project, and two schools. Before leaving Sudan the High Commissioner met with authorities in Sudan's refugee-hosting states of Gadaref and Kassala, thanking them for their long co-operation and assistance to refugees. He also opened two new wards at Gadaref hospital that have been rehabilitated by UNHCR and handed over to the state.