Singing and dancing greets the first South Sudanese refugees to return home from Uganda
KAJO KEJI, South Sudan, May 3 (UNHCR) - After a festive welcome by their singing and cheering compatriots, the first Sudanese refugees returning to South Sudan from years of exile in Uganda began arriving in their original villages Wednesday to complete the second leg of their homecoming journey.
The first convoy, carrying 29 families totalling 114 people, crossed the border from Uganda on Tuesday and was greeted in the town of Kajo Keji with cheers, songs and dances by local residents who lined the road to welcome them.
"We have come to welcome our brothers and sisters home," said one resident as the trucks pulled into the Kangai way station, where the returnees spent the night before travelling on to their home villages on Thursday. "We need the refugees to come home so we can develop our land and our place."
The first organized voluntary repatriation, from settlements in the Moyo district of northern Uganda, carried the returnees and many of their belongings, including chickens, goats, stacks of household goods and luggage.
Before returning to their home villages on Wednesday, the returnees received a three-month food parcel from the World Food Programme, along with a UNHCR reintegration package. This included hoes, an assortment of seeds, and various household items including kitchen sets, blankets, plastic sheets, soap, mosquito nets, sleeping mats and jerry cans. The returnees also received mine-awareness training and information on HIV/AIDS prevention.
The new repatriation operation follows the January 2005 signing of a comprehensive peace agreement for South Sudan that ended 21 years of war between the Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) and the government of Khartoum.
"I am happy to be back in Sudan because there is finally peace and I want to come back to contribute," said returnee Charles Londong.
Returnee Angelina Konga said she had been preparing to return home for a long time and had already sent her daughter so she could enrol in a new secondary school in Pomoju built by UNHCR. "Now I am following so we can set up our home again," Konga said.
In March, the government of Uganda, the government of Sudan and UNHCR signed a tripartite repatriation agreement in preparation for organized returns. In April, UNHCR organized a delegation from Sudan which included officials from the government of South Sudan to visit refugee settlements in Uganda. This was followed by a "go-and-see" visit of refugee representatives to South Sudan which allowed them to assess for themselves the conditions back home.
UNHCR plans to send three convoys per week from Uganda to South Sudan, mainly to villages in the Kajo Keji area. More than 12,000 refugees in Uganda have registered for voluntary repatriation to Kajo Keji, and by the end of May UNHCR hopes to have facilitated the voluntary repatriation of more than 3,000 of them.
There are still 350,000 Sudanese refugees in neighbouring countries and some 4 million internally displaced in Sudan itself. Since UNHCR started voluntary repatriation operations in December 2005, some 4,000 refugees have returned from neighbouring countries to South Sudan, including from Kenya, the Central African Republic and Ethiopia
By Ahmed Warsame in Kajo Keji, South Sudan