UNHCR resumes repatriation of Sudanese in Central African Republic
TAMBURA, Sudan, December 18 (UNHCR) - The UN refugee agency has resumed the repatriation of southern Sudanese refugees from the Central African Republic (CAR) after being forced to suspend the operation for eight months due to security concerns.
On Friday, two flights carrying a total of 105 returnees took off from the Mboki settlement in south-east CAR and later landed at Tambura in southern Sudan's Western Equatoria region. The following day, two more flights brought back another 100 returnees. The first four flights carried 33 people with special needs.
A further 164 passengers were flown to Tambura on a Fokker-50 aircraft on Monday and UNHCR now plans to run three flights, three times a week on aircraft chartered by the International Organization for Migration.
The first flight received a colourful send-off at Mboki and a rapturous welcome after touching down here, with a welcoming crowd of some 500 people rushing to greet the passengers as they stepped off the plane.
Refugee return airlifts from the CAR to Sudan were suspended in April this year following the closure of the border between the neighbouring countries for security reasons and due to insecurity within Sudan. The government of CAR agreed to open a humanitarian corridor for the sole purpose of repatriating Sudanese refugees by air.
Leonidas Nkurunziza, head of the UNHCR office in Mboki, said some 8,000 of the 10,000 Congolese refugees in the settlement wanted to go home. "A lot of refugees have approached us during the past weeks asking when we would finally start with the repatriation," he said.
Kazayo Nziro-Nabara was among the first group of returnees on Friday. The elderly woman acknowledged that it would be hard to restart her life in Tambura, but added that she and her two daughters had decided to go back because "Sudan is our home."
Christoph Hamm, head of the UNHCR field office in Tambura, said the returnees faced serious challenges due to the lack of infrastructure and skilled personnel in areas such as health and education after more than two decades of conflict. UNHCR, through implementing partners, is rehabilitating some health care centres, maternity wards and primary schools - many classes are now taught under trees. The agency is also providing safe water by drilling boreholes.
The returnees get a helping hand to get them started. On arrival in Tambura, the Sudanese received a variety of non-food items, food packs and agricultural tools from UNHCR and sister agencies. As part of a special donation, children aged two to five years were given an extra package of clothes and toys.
The returnees were registered, served a meal and allowed to rest. UNHCR implementing partner, GTZ, was responsible for transporting them to their final destinations the day after their arrival in Tambura. Once they have settled back in their homes, UNHCR will maintain contact with the returnees to ensure that basic protection standards are met.
Western Equatoria, located on the fertile Nile-Congo watershed, produces a surplus of food, and returnees should be able to reach food security after the first planting season.
The UNHCR office in CAR plans to repatriate around 8,000 Sudanese refugees by the middle of next year. More than 2,100 refugees have returned home since February under an agreement between UNHCR, CAR and Sudan. Some 92,000 Sudanese refugees have returned home from neighbouring countries. Of this number, more than 18,000 returned home with UNHCR assistance.
CAR hosts 20,000 refugees from several countries, including 14,000 from Sudan. Within CAR, an estimated 150,000 people have been displaced by fighting and crime in the north of the country. A further 50,000 have sought refuge in southern Chad, while an estimated 20,000 have fled to Cameroon.
By Christoph Hamm in Tambura, Sudan
and Nicolas Rost in Mboki, Central African Republic