UN refugee agency sends team to prepare for returns to southern Sudan
GENEVA, Feb. 22 (UNHCR) - The UN refugee agency is sending a 15-member team to southern Sudan to start urgently needed reintegration projects in preparation for the return of some 550,000 Sudanese refugees in neighbouring countries.
The projects are aimed at quickly putting in place the basic groundwork for a voluntary repatriation operation and conditions for refugees to return home. The projects also will benefit some 4 million internally displaced people (IDPs) who are starting to return on their own to the same areas where refugees are expected to return.
UNHCR spokesman Ron Redmond told a news briefing that for returns to become a reality the agency immediately needs funds to implement its projects. Of the estimated $62 million needed for 2005, UNHCR has not yet received any contributions, he said. The emergency team deployment and initial rehabilitation projects are being paid for from funds borrowed from the agency's operational reserve.
The dispatch of the emergency team followed a trip to the region last week by Deputy High Commissioner Wendy Chamberlin who heard Sudanese refugees in camps in Kenya and Uganda say that they were eager to return home as soon as conditions permit. Chamberlin's visit followed the signing of a peace accord a month ago by the Khartoum government the Sudan People's Liberation Movement, ending two decades of fighting that has left more than 2 million dead in civil strife and war-induced famine.
"Refugees in the camps in camps in neighbouring countries have told us they are reluctant to return to a region almost totally lacking in infrastructure and basic services after more than two decades of conflict," Redmond said.
The projects the emergency team will tackle are varied and range from simple but important individual assistance to infrastructure work. Examples include renovating or building schools and health facilities, supplying school items, providing bicycles and training for teachers, constructing sanitation facilities for schools and health centres, rehabilitating roads and community water sources, creating youth and women's centres to promote reconciliation, education on HIV prevention, mine awareness training, and setting up small income-generating projects.
The emergency team has experts in health, water and sanitation, infrastructure, community services, education, income generation, and reconciliation, as well as telecommunications, information technology staff and field safety officers.
Three members of the emergency team arrived in Sudan over the last few days, joining two members who arrived earlier. Five more staff members leave for Sudan later this week, with the others scheduled to depart shortly. They will boost 22 staff already deployed in Rumbek, Juba and Yei in southern Sudan. UNHCR is also airlifting on Tuesday from Amsterdam to Entebbe in Uganda, vehicles, communications and computer equipment for the operation, Redmond said.
Redmond said UNHCR hopes that with enough investment to rehabilitate communities, the first organized returns of refugees will be arranged after the rainy season ends in September or October.