Eritrea repatriation from Sudan

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Ron Redmond to whom quoted text may be attributed at today's press briefing at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

UNHCR today began a repatriation programme for an estimated 90,000 Eritrean refugees who fled into Sudan following the outbreak of fighting between Ethiopia and Eritrea last May. The first trucks sent by the Eritrean government started loading returnees from the border camps at Gulsa and Lafa in Sudan's eastern state of Kassala at mid-morning. Today's returnees will be going back to their homes or to transit centres in the Tesseney area of western Eritrea.

The Eritrean government said it would mobilize 80 trucks initially for the repatriation convoys from Lafa and Gulsa under an agreement signed 15 July by representatives of UNHCR, Sudan and Eritrea. On the Sudan side, UNHCR and the Sudan Commission on Refugees are deploying 70 trucks for the operation. Tomorrow, we will begin repatriation from a third site, Shagarab, which is further inside Sudan, some 70 km from the border.

To date, more than 18,000 Eritrean refugees have registered to return and many more are enlisting to go back to Eritrea every day. In addition to those going back in this organized repatriation programme, thousands of other refugees have returned on their own to Eritrea over the past few weeks.

The Eritrean government expects the operation to be completed in one month, depending on the weather. The rainy season is just beginning and difficulties are foreseen when the heavy rains come.

UNHCR had been preparing for the repatriation of some 160,000 Eritrean refugees remaining in Sudan from the Eritrean war of liberation, which ended in 1991. That programme had been due to start in mid-May but had to be put on hold because of the renewed fighting in Eritrea. It will take place once the new refugees have all gone home, possibly at the end of the rainy season in October.