Ethiopia: half pre-1991 refugees in Sudan now repatriated
UNHCR has now repatriated half of the pre-1991 Ethiopian refugees in Sudan. Some spent more than 30 years in exile. The operation, which is expected to take home 13,000 refugees, started last December and will ultimately result in the closure of some of the oldest refugee camps in the world. Most of these refugees fled Ethiopia during the Mengistu dictatorship of 1971-91.
A convoy carrying 500 refugees from the Red Sea town of Port Sudan arrived at the Ethiopian border town of Matema yesterday (Thursday) where UNHCR has established a transit camp to receive the refugees. This is the 11th convoy since the beginning of the operation. The refugees, who braved the hot, windy and very dusty weather conditions of the Sahara, arrived after a two and half days of travelling more than 1,000 km aboard open trucks. The Port Sudan convoy is the longest journey by the pre-1991 Ethiopian refugees. The convoy brings the total to 6,741 refugees repatriated since the beginning of the operation in December last year. Those born in exile will be introduced to their country on arrival at Matema before being transported on to their home districts.
Another convoy of 750 Ethiopian refugees leaves tomorrow from Kassala and will cross the border on Sunday. More than 13,000 refugees volunteered for repatriation in November and December last year, following a UNHCR information campaign. Ethiopian government officials visited the camps and explained the security and political conditions in Ethiopia. This exercise came after UNHCR last March declared envoked a "cessation clause" for Mengistu-era refugees, ruling that they no longer had compelling reasons to fear return to Ethiopia.