Ethiopia-Sudan repatriation resumes with convoy of 610 people
BONGA CAMP, Ethiopia, December 17 (UNHCR) - The UN refugee agency has resumed the repatriation of Sudanese refugees from western Ethiopia after a six-month hiatus due to the rainy season and poor road conditions.
A convoy of buses and trucks carrying 610 Sudanese refugees - more than half of them born in Ethiopia - left Bonga Camp on Saturday on a 820-kilometre-long journey to Sudan's Blue Nile state via the border crossing of Kurmuk.
The journey, which was impossible once the rains set in from May, will take about three days. The returning Sudanese refugees will spend the nights at UNHCR-built transit centres.
"With the resumption of the return movement, we, together with our partners, expect to assist the return of approximately 30,000 Sudanese refugees between now and the end of 2008," said Ilunga Ngandu, UNHCR's regional liaison representative for Africa. He added that this would enable UNHCR to close at least two of the four camps sheltering Sudanese refugees in Ethiopia.
Almost 400 of the returnees are aged under 18 years, which indicates that most were probably born and raised in Ethiopia. They include 11-year-old Susannah Tame, who was born in Bonga and has never touched foot in the Sudan. Her parents crossed into Ethiopia in the early 1990s to escape the bitter north-south conflict in their country, which drove hundreds of thousands of people into exile.
Home is likely a vague concept for Susannah and other young refugees in Bonga, whose knowledge of Sudan comes from what their parents and neighbours have told them. But she feels good about the future.
"I would like to put the knowledge I acquired in the camp to good use in Sudan, and I think that my peace education training will be particularly useful in my new life," she said. "I will try to advise others on how to resolve disputes amicably and live and work together peacefully," added the young pacifist.
Also leaving here on Saturday was Kaba Wotol, who has been displaced several times over the past 20 years. The 48-year-old grandfather is returning with all his family. "During the many years I spent in Bonga camp, I had the opportunity to participate in workshops and skills training and I am sure that the skills and knowledge I have acquired in Ethiopia will assist me to rebuild my life in Sudan," he said before boarding the convoy.
The organized repatriation of Sudanese refugees from Ethiopia started in March 2006 and UNHCR has since helped more than 21,000 refugees go home. Return convoys are expected to resume shortly from Sherkole Camp, and from Fugnido and Dimma camps early next year via the Pagak crossing point.
Before leaving Bonga, a camp of more than 7,000 Sudanese refugees, the returnees received a reintegration package of blankets, jerry cans, sleeping mats, a water filter and a sanitary kit for females.
They will receive more supplies at Kurmuk, including plastic sheeting, mosquito nets, plastic buckets, kitchen utensils and soap. Upon arrival in Sudan, a reintegration package comprising three months of food, seeds and agricultural tools will be provided by the World Food Programme and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization.
By Kisut Gebre Egziabher and Anna Rich in Bonga Camp, Ethiopia