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Sudan: Eritrean leaders visit homelands

Briefing notes

Sudan: Eritrean leaders visit homelands

5 February 2002

A group of 60 Eritrean refugee leaders arrived in their homeland on Monday at the beginning of a five-day 'go-and-see' visit organized by UNHCR for Eritrean exiles. This is the first visit of its kind organised by the refugee agency to give the refugees a first-hand look at conditions and reintegration programmes in their home areas of western Eritrea. The 60 men and women from each of the 23 camps in the east and north of Sudan represent a cross-section of the refugee population. They are accompanied by UNHCR staff and representatives from the Sudanese and Eritrean governments.

Upon arrival in the western Eritrea town of Tesseney on Monday, the group was met by local authorities, religious leaders from the local church and mosque, as well as local youth and women's groups. Arrangements have been made for the refugees to visit various towns and villages in the Gash Barka region of Eritrea where they will look at water, health and education facilities. They will also assess the available farmland and speak to earlier returnees.

UNHCR staff hope that showing refugees the reintegration process first-hand will raise interest in repatriation. Many of the nearly 140,000 Eritreans remaining in Sudan are farmers from the Gash Barka region, the main agricultural area of country. The aid provided to returning refugees includes hand tools for farming and up to two hectares of arable land from the government. More than 38,000 Eritrean refugees have returned home from neighbouring Sudan since UNHCR last year began a massive return operation aimed at bringing back one of Africa's oldest groups of refugees.