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Eritrea: returns from Sudan surpass 50,000

Briefing notes

Eritrea: returns from Sudan surpass 50,000

25 June 2002

The repatriation of Eritrean refugees from Sudan passed the 50,000 mark last weekend when the 91st convoy in the year-old return operation crossed from the eastern Sudan town of Kassala to Tesseney in western Eritrea.

Sunday's convoy took home 960 Eritrean returnees, the majority of them from Port Sudan, Sudan's north-eastern port city on the Red Sea. This brought to 50,479 the total number of returns to Eritrea since the beginning of the voluntary return operation in May last year.

UNHCR expects to aid the return of an estimated 3,000 more returnees aboard three convoys before the onset of the heavy rainy season at the end of July. Some 14,000 refugees living across 23 camps in eastern Eritrea have registered to return. Registration in the camps continues.

Meanwhile, a tripartite meeting held in Geneva late last week between the governments of Sudan, Eritrea and UNHCR agreed to begin implementing a plan of action designed to repatriate to Eritrea hundreds of thousands of Eritrean refugees. It will include those who fled their country during the decades-long war of independence, which ended in June 1991, as well as well as those who escaped the recent border conflict between Eritrea and Ethiopia. Refugee status for both groups will formally end at the end of this year.

In the new action plan, the registration programme will be expanded to include refugees living in urban centres who until now have not been included in the return plan. A joint Government of Sudan/UNHCR legal screening committee will be established to determine Eritrean refugee claims for continued asylum in Sudan. The meeting agreed that registration would continue until the end of the year. Return convoys will be operated until refugees registered for return have been transported home.

UNHCR is assisting more than 164,000 Eritrean refugees living in camps in eastern Sudan. Hundreds of thousands more are estimated to be in urban centres across Sudan.