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Kenya/Sudan: Milestone tripartite agreement signed for return

Briefing notes

Kenya/Sudan: Milestone tripartite agreement signed for return

13 January 2006

Together with Sudan and Kenya, UNHCR has signed a milestone tripartite agreement that sets out the roles and obligations of each side in helping South Sudanese refugees go home from Kenya, where they have received protection for the past 14 years. The agreement, signed in Nairobi yesterday (Thursday, 12 Jan.), is the first of seven tripartite agreements we expect to sign with countries neighbouring Sudan that will clear the way for up to 70,000 refugees to return to South Sudan in the first half of this year. Some 10,000 of these may come from Kenya alone.

It was fitting that the first such agreement was signed in Kenya, a country that played such a vital role in the peace process that culminated in the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) that ended 21 years of north-south civil war in Sudan. The CPA was signed in Nairobi on 9 Jan, 2005.

Our planning figures call for us to help up to 70,000 South Sudanese go home before the start of the rainy season in South Sudan in May or June. There are some 550,000 refugees in exile in neighbouring countries and upwards of 5 million other Sudanese displaced within their own country. Last year, we estimate, some 70,000 to 80,000 South Sudanese refugees went home on their own from exile abroad. Our organized repatriation began in December with a small movement of 131 refugees from Kakuma Refugee Camp in north-western Kenya.

In the tripartite agreement signed Thursday, all sides agreed that any returns should be voluntary - a crucial principle for all refugee returns. Sudan pledged to ensure that refugees can return in safety and dignity, and Kenya, on the other hand, pledged to continue to safeguard the rights of refugees who decide to stay in Kenya for now.

This agreement is to be followed by tripartite agreements between Sudan, UNHCR and other countries of asylum. An agreement with the Democratic Republic of the Congo should be signed at the end of this month, to be followed by an agreement with the Central African Republic. Agreements are also being negotiated with Uganda and Ethiopia, where some 14,000 Sudanese refugees, out of 73,000 in five camps, have asked UNHCR to take them home immediately.

We hope these agreements will also be the signal for donors to step up their funding for repatriation. In 2005, UNHCR's Sudan operations received only $42 million out of the $76 million needed. For 2006, the minimum requirement for funding for the repatriation is $63 million.

The main asylum countries for refugees from South Sudan are Uganda (204,400), Ethiopia (73,400), Democratic Republic of the Congo (69,400), Kenya (74,000), Central African Republic (36,000) and Egypt (30,324).