UNHCR steps up voluntary repatriation to Southern Sudan
UNHCR has stepped up repatriation movements from countries bordering Southern Sudan. Since the beginning of the year, 15,700 organized returns of Sudanese refugees have taken place - three times more than for the same period last year. The weekly return rate has increased from 600 people at the beginning of the year to 3,000 at the beginning of March. This trend is expected to continue over the coming months, with up to 16 overland return corridors and air bridges set up by UNHCR and its partners for repatriation movements back to Southern Sudan.
Since beginning of 2008, close to 10,000 refugees have returned from Uganda alone. At Torit, in South Sudan's Eastern Equatoria state, the newly established way station received its first convoy of returnees from Uganda on March 12. The group of 203 returnees received some assistance packages, including both food and non-food items.
Meanwhile, UNHCR announced the results of a recent re-verification exercise to establish the numbers of South Sudanese refugees remaining in various camps and settlements in Uganda. Close to 60,000 long-staying refugees in Uganda, particularly in the Adjumani area adjacent to the border with Sudan, were found to have left their dwellings for an extended period of time. They are presumed to have returned to South Sudan, where an increase in the number of spontaneous returns was observed in late 2007. South Sudanese refugee figures for Uganda have thus been reduced from 160,541 (as of end of November 2007) to 101,300.
In February, returns from Kenya also surged to 2,500 as compared to the monthly average of 600 during the first half of 2007. A regular air return operation is currently running from Kakuma Camp in Kenya to Jonglei State in Southern Sudan. Repatriations have also been undertaken to Lakes and Warrab states in Southern Sudan. Other repatriation movements to Unity and Northern Bahr El Gazal states are expected to start soon.
Returns from Ethiopia to Blue Nile and Upper Nile - two South Sudanese states that suffered badly during the severe flooding of 2007 - have remained at a steady level of 600 returns per month but are expected to pick up speed in the coming weeks.
Recent donations of trucks from the Swiss and the Swedish governments as well as from the Southern Sudan Relief and Rehabilitation Commission have been crucial in bolstering UNHCR's capacity to respond to the increasing needs for this repatriation operation. This year, UNHCR plans to facilitate the voluntary repatriation of a total of 80,000 Sudanese refugees from Uganda (45,000), Kenya (17,000), Ethiopia (16,000) and Egypt (2,000).