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Sudan: more Eritreans register for repatriation

Briefing notes

Sudan: more Eritreans register for repatriation

15 May 2001

More Eritrean refugees are registering for repatriation from Sudan after a first UNHCR convoy took 934 refugees home to Eritrea on Saturday. That convoy marked the start of a major repatriation operation organised by UNHCR and the governments of Sudan and Eritrea for the return of 174,000 refugees to Eritrea from neighbouring Sudan.

A second convoy, carrying 960 refugees, departed Kassala, Sudan, this morning for UNHCR's transit centre in Tesseney, western Eritrea. The returnees are receiving cash assistance, food and household supplies to help them settle back into communities which some of them left during last year's conflict between Eritrea and Ethiopia.

Saturday's 54-truck convoy was welcomed by cheering crowds, including government officials, at the Eritrea-Sudan border. The crowd, braving blistering heat at the border crossing, sang and played traditional drums and waved national flags to welcome their compatriots home. Some of the refugees who fled with livestock crossed the border on foot with their animals. Others, who travelled by truck to the UNHCR transit centre inside Eritrea, carried their chickens and livestock with them.

Following the departure of the first convoy on Saturday, several hundred more refugees have come forward to register for repatriation, bringing the total over the past two weeks to more than 17,000. UNHCR plans to repatriate some 20,000 people before the onset of the rainy season at the end of June, which may hinder road travel. By the end of this year, we hope to have repatriated 62,000 people. Most of those keen to go home now are farmers who want to prepare their fields in time for the rainy season. Other refugees are rushing home to place their children in schools.

There are about 174,000 Eritrean refugees in camps in Sudan. Some of the refugees have spent more than 30 years in exile, having fled present-day Eritrea as early as 1967.