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UNHCR, Ethiopia and Sudan to sign agreement for refugee return

Briefing notes

UNHCR, Ethiopia and Sudan to sign agreement for refugee return

24 February 2006

UNHCR and the governments of Ethiopia and Sudan are expected to sign an agreement on Monday (27 Feb.) which will set out the legal framework for the repatriation of some 73,000 Sudanese refugees currently in Ethiopia. The tripartite agreement will be signed in Addis Ababa.

Our teams in south Sudan and in Ethiopia are finalizing way stations and organizing for the delivery of assistance to the future returnees, and we expect the first movement to take place before the end of March.

The agreement comes more than a year after the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) that ended 21 years of north-south civil war in Sudan. The CPA was signed in Nairobi, Kenya, on January 9, 2005.

The Sudanese refugees remain in five camps in Ethiopia, including Bonga, Dimma, Fugnido, Sherkole and Yarenja. Most of the Sudanese refugees presently in the camps arrived in Ethiopia in 1983 and in the 1990s as a result of the civil war in south Sudan. Ethiopia had already hosted thousands of Sudanese refugees in the 1970s, when they fled an earlier civil conflict in their country. Most of them went back home after the signature of an agreement in 1972.

Some 14,000 Sudanese refugees, out of the total of 73,774 in the five camps in western Ethiopia, have so far asked us to bring them back home as soon as possible. These returns should take place before the onset of the rainy season in south Sudan in May or June.

In all, Ethiopia currently hosts more than 100,000 refugees from Sudan, Somalia and Eritrea.

The tripartite agreement will embody a provision on the voluntary nature of the returns - a crucial principle for all refugee repatriation operations. Sudan should pledge to ensure that refugees can return in safety and dignity, and Ethiopia, on the other hand, pledges to continue safeguarding the rights of refugees who have decided to remain in Ethiopia for the time being.

The agreement provides for "go-and-see" visits by refugee representatives to South Sudan. The visits could begin as early as the second week of March. These kinds of visits constitute an opportunity for the refugees' leaders to inform their peers in the camps in Ethiopia on the general living conditions in Sudan. The agreement also includes a provision for UNHCR's monitoring role to ensure that the returns are strictly voluntary and to monitor the consequences of return.

The tripartite agreement with Ethiopia is the fourth of this kind after agreements concluded with Kenya (January 12), the Democratic Republic of the Congo (January 30), and the Central African Republic (February 1) on the return of Sudanese refugees to their country. There are still 350,000 Sudanese refugees in neighbouring countries while more than 4 million remain displaced in Sudan itself.