Repatriation from Kenya to southern Sudan picks up steam
KAKUMA, Kenya, June 7 (UNHCR) - When a 46-year-old woman boarded an airplane bound for south Sudan two weeks ago, she became the 1,000th Sudanese refugee to return home since UNHCR began organizing voluntary repatriations from north-west Kenya's Kakuma Refugee Camp last December.
"It is a great thing each time a group of refugees return to south Sudan," said Fortunata Ngonyani, UNHCR's community services officer in Kakuma, as she watched the refugees going home. "It acts as an encouragement to others in the camp and gives them confidence in the Sudanese peace process and the voluntary repatriation programme," she added. "It is our hope that information flowing from repatriated refugees back to Kakuma will encourage more refugees to return home".
The voluntary repatriation is part of the planned return of more than 70,000 refugees who fled southern Sudan to Kakuma during two decades of civil war that formally ended in early 2005 with the signing of a peace agreement between the Sudanese government and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army.
"We started modestly with the return of 131 refugees last December, and now we hope that we will be able to help 10,000 refugees go home from Kakuma by the end of this year," said George Okoth-Obbo, UNHCR's representative in Kenya.
UNHCR has also begun organizing voluntary repatriations from other countries of refuge - the Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Uganda and Ethiopia.
Almost 1,300 Sudanese have now left Kakuma. One recent morning, a batch of refugees eagerly boarded a truck just as the sun rose, spreading its orange rays across Kakuma. Excited at finally ending their exile in this arid area, the 43 men, women and children sang praises for peace in Sudan as the truck ferried them to the Kakuma airstrip to catch a specially chartered flight to south Sudan.
"This is truly a special day for me and my family", said 40-year-old Peter Duol, who was preparing to take his two children - ages four and two - back to Bor county in southern Sudan's Jongley state. "It is a dream come true, I have always dreamt of raising my sons in their true home, Sudan."
Duol said he began to hope for a return home after the peace pact was signed in January last year. "But I had to wait and see if it really was true," he recalled. "After reports from back home in Bor county that things were peaceful, I registered for voluntary repatriation."
His plane left on time, and just a few hours later a second group of 39 refugees was ready to catch their flight home. They were clutching blankets, sleeping mats, plastic sheets, mosquito nets, jerry cans, kitchen sets, water buckets and soap - given by UNHCR to help them restart their lives at home.
"I came to Kakuma in 1997 to escape the war in south Sudan, but now I cannot wait to go back home", said Moses Majak. The 32-year-old said he had received an education in Kakuma, something that was impossible at home during the war.
Although he only reached class seven, he can now read and write in English and was eager to return to his home in Bor county. "I want to be part of building our nation," he said with a big grin.
By David Mwagiru in Kakuma, Kenya