Africa Fact Sheet - Horn of Africa
A tripartite agreement was signed on 7 April by Eritrea, Sudan and UNHCR in preparation for the repatriation of some 160,000 Eritrean refugees from Sudan where many sought asylum 30 years ago. It is anticipated that some 35,000 to 40,000 Eritreans could repatriate this year, and the balance in 2001. As part of the agreement, UNHCR is mounting a campaign that will inform potential returnees of repatriation procedures and their rights, including the fact that draft-age men and women will be subject to the military duty. Assessment visits by refugees to their home areas have already taken place in April. The voluntary repatriation will be open to all Eritrean refugees in the Sudan regardless of whether they are living in refugee camps or in urban areas. UNHCR staff and the Sudanese Commissioner for Refugees are working on an integration plan for the Eritreans who wish to remain in Sudan.
On 1 March, the cessation clause for Ethiopian refugees who left their country before 1991 under the Mengistu regime took effect. This mainly affects the estimated 42,000 Ethiopian refugees in Sudan, of whom 12,000 are still living in camps in the El Showak area. An additional 3,600 are settled in urban areas in Kenya.
UNHCR has withdrawn automatic refugee status from this group. They were given the choice to repatriate with UNHCR assistance or to come forward in the country of asylum if they claim to fear persecution on return to Ethiopia. Individuals will continue to benefit from refugee status only if they can prove such a claim. After having been informed of their options through an information campaign in December last year, 3,800 of the group in Sudan have registered for voluntary return. UNHCR legal staff are working with immigration authorities in Sudan and Kenya to regularize the status of those who neither come forward nor repatriate.
The number of refugees fleeing to neighbouring countries from clashes in southern Sudan rose in March and April. UNHCR staff in Kenya recorded the arrival of more than 2,500 new arrivals in the first four months of the year. People arriving in the border outpost of Lokichokio in north-western Kenya report that government air attacks, bandit raids on cattle herds and diminishing hopes for future harvests have driven thousands of people from villages in Eastern Equatoria province.
New arrivals in Kenya are transferred to Kakuma camp (population 85,000). However, the increasing number of refugees and the erosion of parts of the camp by a river have made the identification and development of a new site and infrastructures an urgent priority.
UNHCR offices in Uganda have also recorded an increase of new arrivals from Sudan. During March, over 1,400 refugees were registered by UNHCR, mainly in Arua, forcing the agency and government authorities to reopen a transit centre in Keri. This figure is 500 higher than the monthly average recorded in 1999. Some said they had been on the move since December last year. And over a ten-day period in January, 5,500 Sudanese refugees crossed into Ethiopia to escape fighting with SPLA.
At the beginning of the year, almost 500,000 Sudanese refugees were registered in 57 countries. The largest populations of Sudanese refugees are in Uganda (200,000), Ethiopia (70,000), DRC (68,000), Kenya (64,000) and the Central African Republic (35,000).
The current drought in several countries of the Horn may seriously affect UNHCR activities in the region. Prolonged food shortages will increase the likelihood of population displacement and local inhabitants - particularly in Ethiopia and Kenya - will turn to refugee camps for food and water for themselves and their livestock. Several repatriations, including the ongoing operation from eastern Ethiopia to north-west Somalia, may be delayed.
By April, UNHCR staff in Kenya and Ethiopia had begun seeing more local inhabitants at camp water wells and health facilities. In eastern Ethiopia, where UNHCR has traditionally provided assistance to local inhabitants, staff noted an increase of 70% in Ethiopians admitted to camp clinics for free treatment. The agency is now trucking additional quantities of water to Aware, Kebribeyah, and Hartisheik camps and nearby communities, while work continues on earthen dams, bore holes, and pipelines to assist drought victims.