UNHCR resumes repatriation of Sudanese from Kenya's Kakuma camp
KAKUMA, Kenya, November 22 (UNHCR) - The UN refugee agency has resumed the repatriation by air of Sudanese refugees from this camp in north-west Kenya after suspending the progamme in June for financial and logistical reasons.
Flights on Tuesday and Wednesday carried a total of 105 returnees from Kakuma to the town of Bentiu in southern Sudan's Unity state, while a further 100 Sudanese were scheduled to fly home on Thursday.
Before leaving Kakuma, the returnees were given an aid package to help them restart their lives in Sudan, including items such as blankets, mosquito nets, soap, plastic mats, kitchen sets, jerry cans and sanitary items.
Rita Mazzocchi, the UNHCR repatriation coordinator in Kakuma, said the agency planned to operate flights every week until the end of the year. "Our aim is to have at least 2,000 refugees repatriated by air to mostly Warrab, Unity, Jongolei and northern Bahr-el-Ghazal states in south Sudan by the end of this year," she said.
UNHCR's assisted voluntary repatriation programme from Kakuma, launched in December last year, was suspended - with the exception of some small-scale overland returns - due to funding problems and heavy rains, which cut roads in the marshy area and made airstrips unusable.
But while the weather has improved, the planned large-scale repatriation of refugees by road has been delayed due to security concerns following recent ambushes on vehicles near the southern Sudan town of Juba. Unidentified armed groups have attacked both private and UN vehicles, while 38 civilians were killed last month during attacks in the same area.
"We had planned to resume the repatriation of at least 4,000 refugees by road to Jongolei state through the towns of Kapoeta, Torit and Juba by the end of this year, but we have not begun the repatriation through the Juba area because of the recent insecurity," said Mohammad Arif, head of UNHCR's Kakuma office.
"We shall resume once we receive reassurance about the security situation and clearance from the UNHCR office in south Sudan," he added.
With the Tuesday and Wednesday flights, more than 1,500 Sudanese have now been taken home from Kakuma. 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. The conflict ended in early 2005 with the signing of a peace agreement between the Sudanese government and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army.
UNHCR and its implementing partners are conducting information campaigns in the Kakuma camp, explaining the peace pact, the voluntary repatriation process and the changed situation in southern Sudan.
The repatriation exercise in Kenya is expected to continue into next year if funds are available. Earlier this year, UNHCR issued an appeal for funding to avoid drastically curtailing its repatriation operation in southern Sudan.
By David Mwagiru in Kakuma, Kenya