UNHCR's repatriation programme for South Sudan hits 50,000 mark
YAMBIO, South Sudan, April 10 (UNHCR) - UNHCR's repatriation programme for South Sudan topped the 50,000 mark this week when a group of 84 Sudanese refugees flew to the town of Yambio from Central African Republic (CAR).
The milestone was passed on Monday, with members of the Bangbadi family being given a special welcome after their arrival here in Western Equatoria state on one of two chartered repatriation flights from Mboki in CAR. Also yesterday, a road convoy brought 543 refugees home to Upper Nile state from Ethiopia.
"Right now I'm not sure that I'm actually back home. It is a great surprise and I am very happy to see all this. It will not be easy to start again from zero, but we are confident, we will make it," said 62-year-old Luigi Bangbadi, head of a family of 11 who had been in exile for more than 16 years.
Bangbadi, who fled Yambio when forces of the rebel Sudanese People's Liberation Army (SPLA) approached the town in 1990, said he had worked in exile as a medical assistant and hoped to find a job in the public health sector. "Even during the repatriation operation in Mboki camp, my fellow Sudanese compatriots came to me to undergo all preliminary medical tests," he noted.
Chrysantus Ache, UNHCR representative in Sudan, welcomed the 50,000 returnees landmark. "I am extremely pleased to see this development. Within the first quarter of 2007 alone we brought back more than 20,000 returnees through organised repatriation. This is a great improvement compared to 2006," he said.
"I congratulate all colleagues and partners within the UN family and humanitarian community for their common efforts in making the repatriation and reintegration of Sudanese refugees a success," Ache added.
Returnees like Bangbadi and his family will be vital to the reconstruction of South Sudan, following the signing of a peace agreement in January 2005 between the government and the political wing of the SPLA. The south needs skilled workers and professionals such as teachers, doctors and nurses.
It also needs to rebuild infrastructure, including housing, water outlets, schools, clinics, roads, bridges and government offices. This is where the international community can help with reconstruction and rehabilitation projects, as well as training. UNHCR is engaged in reintegration projects in major areas of return, including health, educational, water and sanitation, agricultural and livelihood projects. Around 100 projects are under way or planned for this year.
The need is even greater with more and more Sudanese returning. During the first 10 days in April, Sudanese refugees from CAR, Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia, Egypt and Libya were transported home. All six return corridors linking neighbouring countries of asylum to South Sudan are operational. As of today, 50,533 Sudanese have been assisted to return home since the repatriation exercise started in March 2005.
Over the past weeks the repatriation movement peaked at nearly 4,000 returnees per week. UNHCR aims to scale it up to 5,000 per week during April, to assist as many voluntary returns as possible before the rainy season starts in May, when most roads will nearly be impassable for up to six months.
More than 120,000 Sudanese refugees have returned home since the signing of the January 2005 peace pact, 70,000 of them spontaneously, even though the living conditions and lack of infrastructure in South Sudan after more than two decades of civil war are challenging.
Returnees, however, are not discouraged by prevailing conditions. They claim that they want to be back in time for the planting season to witness their next harvest in their villages and that they want to help rebuild their country.
Sudanese refugees in western Ethiopia are particularly keen to rush home. Every week convoys leave the camps of Fungido, Bonga and Gambella carrying an average of 500 to 700 refugees each to their homes in the Blue Nile and Upper Nile states.
Some 300,000 Sudanese refugees remain in neighbouring countries. UNHCR hopes to repatriate 102,000 Sudanese refugees this year and help them restart their lives.
By Annette Rehrl in Yambio, South Sudan