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UNHCR chief vows to step up repatriation of Sudanese from Uganda

UNHCR chief vows to step up repatriation of Sudanese from Uganda

UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres pledges to step up the repatriation of southern Sudanese refugees in Uganda.
5 March 2008
High Commissioner Guterres and Ugandan Minister Tarsis Kabwegyere flag off a convoy of Sudanese refugees.

MADI OKOLLO CAMP, Uganda, March 5 (UNHCR) - UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres on Wednesday pledged to step up the repatriation of southern Sudanese refugees in Uganda.

"When I met with your leaders we agreed that we should intensify the return operation. We will be able to double the number of people going back each week," Guterres told hundreds of refugees at the Madi Okollo camp in northern Uganda's Arua district. Weekly UNHCR convoys are currently bringing up to 1,200 Sudanese refugees from Uganda to South Sudan.

The pledge came after Guterres, Luxembourg Minister for Development, Cooperation and Humanitarian Affairs Jean-Louis Schiltz and Ugandan Minister of Relief and Disaster Preparedness Tarsis Kabwegyere flagged off a 15-vehicle repatriation convoy carrying 450 refugees on the nine-hour road journey to Magwi County in their native South Sudan.

UNHCR has helped nearly 35,000 refugees return to South Sudan from Uganda since launching an assisted repatriation programme in May 2006. The refugee agency hopes to assist another 42,000 repatriate this year.

Guterres praised those on Wednesday's convoy for their "very brave" decision to return, despite the challenges in South Sudan. He acknowledged that much more needs to be done in South Sudan to help integrate the returnees.

"Many roads need to be built; schools and hospitals put into operation. It is important that the international community help South Sudan in this process," said Guterres, who was on the third day of a four-day visit to view UNHCR operations in Uganda.

The High Commissioner is visiting Uganda with Schiltz, who assured the refugees: "Just as we have supported you on this side of the border [in Uganda], we will not forget you in South Sudan."

He said a new period was about to begin in South Sudan. "I want to ask you to take up the opportunity for return," added the minister from Luxembourg, which is UNHCR's top donor per capita, contributing US$25 per inhabitant in 2006 and 2007.

Guterres and Schiltz were greeted by dancing children in a church compound, where they addressed the Madi Okollo camp, which was established in 2003 to shelter thousands of Sudanese refugees forced to flee another camp after it was attacked by fighters of the rebel Lord's Revolutionary Army (LRA). The LRA is now holding peace talks with the Ugandan government.

The pair later visited the camp hospital and a primary school as well as talking to refugees in their homes. Schiltz inaugurated a primary school kitchen, featuring an energy-saving stove.

Guterres wraps up his Uganda mission on Thursday with a meeting with senior government officials in Kampala, including Prime Minister Apolo Nsibambi.

He will then travel to Tanzania, where he will inaugurate a two-year programme to end one of the world's most protracted refugee situations - the exile of some 218,000 Burundians who fled their country in 1972. It will be one of UNHCR's most important programmes on the African continent this year.

By Millicent Mutuli in Madi Okollo, Uganda