South Sudan: First returns from Central African Republic
After almost two decades in exile, a group of 49 Sudanese refugees flew home yesterday from the Central African Republic (CAR), the first of thousands we expect to help repatriate from the CAR in 2006 and 2007.
The group travelled by air from Mboki camp in CAR to Tambura, in South Sudan's Western Equatoria region. The inaugural flight, with transport organized by the International Organization for Migration (IOM), followed the signature on Wednesday of a tripartite agreement between CAR, Sudan and UNHCR.
The refugees arrived in Tambura yesterday (Thursday) morning, more than 16 years after they fled to neighbouring CAR to escape the devastating war in South Sudan.
They met with family members and friends they had not seen for many years and were warmly welcomed by the Tambura authorities who encouraged all southerners still in foreign countries to come back to their homeland.
UNHCR and IOM eventually plan to fly three or four days a week, with up to 600 returnees going home weekly. The majority of the returns will take place to Tambura and Yambio areas. The operation should be completed by the end of 2007.
The challenge for returnees will be to help rebuild their country as 21 years of civil war have left the region with very little infrastructure and lack of development. There are only 14 kilometres of paved road in all of South Sudan. School buildings have been destroyed and health services are rare. Some areas are still heavily mined. Despite the challenges, refugees are eager to return and authorities are more than ready to welcome them.
Most of the Sudanese refugees arrived in CAR in the 1990s and settled in Mboki, 200 km from the border with Sudan, where an estimated 12,000 now live. An additional 4,000 Sudanese refugees live in the Kaga Bandoro area, as well as in urban areas, mainly in Bangui.
The tripartite agreement, signed in Bangui on Wednesday, sets up the legal framework for the voluntary repatriation of south Sudan refugees in CAR to Sudan. The agreement is in line with the multiple and continuing peace efforts undertaken since the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) for South Sudan signed in Nairobi on January 9, 2005. Similar accords were signed in January this year for the voluntary repatriation of South Sudanese refugees who have been living in camps in Kenya and in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Additional agreements are to follow with other neighbouring countries hosting Sudanese refugees.
There are an estimated 350,000 south Sudanese refugees in neighbouring countries while more than 4 million people remain displaced within Sudan itself.