New repatriation corridors open from Ethiopia to southern Sudan
PAGAK PAYAM, Sudan, March 12 (UNHCR) - Two new repatriation corridors from western Ethiopia to south Sudan opened at the weekend, paving the way for the return home of thousands of refugees. The first two convoys, carrying some 800 Sudanese refugees, set off from camps in western Ethiopia and reached the border crossings later in the day.
The new return corridors, bringing to three the total number of corridors operating from Ethiopia, will help UNHCR repatriate most of the 37,000 refugees living in Fugnido, Dimma and Yerenja camps. Many of the refugees will return to areas in Upper Nile, Jonglei and Blue Nile states in south-eastern Sudan.
The new routes bring to eight the total number of corridors linking Sudan's southern neighbours - the Central Africa Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Uganda, Kenya and Ethiopia - with various locations inside south Sudan.
The first convoy on Saturday - organised by UNHCR, the Ethiopian government and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) - took 323 Sudanese refugees from Fugnido camp to Pagak Payam in Upper Nile state using the newly opened Gambella-Pagak return corridor. Fugnido, the largest refugee camp in Ethiopia, has a population of 27,000 Sudanese refugees.
Pagak Payam elders, women and youth welcomed the returnees with songs and dances in a ceremony attended by government officials and representatives of UNHCR, IOM and other involved organisations. A cow was slaughtered in celebration and speeches made before the returnees proceeded to the nearby ADRA Japan Transit Centre.
"I am delighted that finally refugees from Upper Nile state are able to return home from Ethiopia and I applaud the governments of Ethiopia and Sudan and colleagues in both countries for their commitment [to the repatriation process]," said Chrysantus Ache, UNHCR representative in Sudan.
The second convoy on Saturday was organised by UNHCR and Sudan's Humanitarian Affairs Commission. It returned 495 refugees from the small and isolated Yarenja camp, north of Gambella, opening the Yarenja-Bambodi-Damazin return corridor. UNHCR plans to organise a total of three convoys this month to help repatriate Yarenja's small camp population of 1,500 refugees.
The returnees spent Saturday night at Um Darfa way station and proceeded on Sunday to Damazin, where they received a three-month food ration pack, non-food items and mine awareness training.
Sudan's Foreign Minister Lam Akol praised UNHCR for its role in opening up the new corridors. "With the opening of these new corridors we need more financial resources to sustain the movements, particularly from Ethiopia, as we strive to meet our planned return figure of 102,000 persons in 2007," he said.
In 2007, UNHCR plans to assist some 30,400 Sudanese return from Ethiopia - nearly one-half of the 66,000 Sudanese refugees living in the country. More than 6,500 Sudanese refugees have already returned home from Ethiopia with UNHCR's assistance since the voluntary repatriation programme was launched in early 2006. Thousands more have returned using their own means.
Since the signing of the peace agreement between the Sudanese government and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army (SPLA) in January 2005, an estimated 102,000 refugees have returned to south Sudan from various countries, including 32,400 with UNHCR's assistance. Earlier this month, the refugee agency launched a US$56.1 million appeal for its south Sudan repatriation and reintegration operation this year.