South Sudan: 10,000th returnee landmark reached
A milestone was reached earlier this week, when the 10,000th refugee to be repatriated by UNHCR to south Sudan under a programme launched in December, returned home on a convoy from Uganda.
The convoy which arrived on Tuesday was carrying 262 refugees from Moyo in northern Uganda. Most of the Sudanese were seeing their homeland for the first time in years. Hundreds of thousands of people fled southern Sudan in the 1980s and 1990s to escape fighting between the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA) and the Khartoum government.
After delays due to security and logistical concerns, UNHCR began repatriating Sudanese refugees from neighbouring countries in December and the rate of returns has been steady since then. This latest convoy brought the number of UNHCR-assisted returnees to 10,113.
The High Commissioner, António Guterres, has said more needs to be done now by the international community's development agencies to bridge the gap between relief and development so returnees, once home, can stay home.
The recently returned refugees are staying at a way station for several days while UNHCR staff determine their final destinations. They will then be transported in UNHCR trucks to their home villages around the towns of Yei, Maridi, Yambio and Juba.
At the way station they receive health education, mine risk education and HIV/AIDS-awareness training.
This was the seventh UNHCR-run repatriation convoy from Uganda to south Sudan since March, when the refugee agency and the governments of Uganda and Sudan signed a tripartite repatriation agreement.
UNHCR has also been organizing voluntary repatriations from countries of asylum such as Ethiopia, Kenya, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Central African Republic. There are still some 340,000 Sudanese refugees in camps in neighbouring countries.
The repatriation operation followed the signing in January last year of a peace agreement between the SPLA and the Sudanese government.