UNHCR resumes stalled repatriation of Sudanese in Ethiopia
BONGA, Ethiopia, February 25 (UNHCR) - A convoy carrying 605 people left Bonga camp at the weekend, marking the resumption of the UN refugee agency's Sudanese repatriation programme from western Ethiopia.
The convoy left Bonga on Saturday at the start of an 820-kilometre-long journey to South Sudan's Blue Nile state via the border crossing of Kurmuk. The returnees, including 391 under the age of 18, are expected to arrive in Sudan on Tuesday. The convoy will stop for the night at UNHCR-built transit centres.
Some of the refugees took back their pet dogs. The ethnic Uduk refugees in the camp have a strong emotional attachment to the emaciated-looking dogs, whom they consider as members of the family.
This was the first Sudanese repatriation convoy from western Ethiopia since December 29. That convoy came two weeks after UNHCR resumed its return operations, which had been suspended for six months because of the rainy season. The refugee agency had planned to run another convoy in January, but this was delayed due to bureaucratic problems.
"Today's convoy will take us one step closer toward closing Bonga and Dimma camps and wind up our operation in two of four camps in western Ethiopia," Cosmas Chanda, UNHCR's deputy representative in Ethiopia, said in Bonga after seeing off the returnees.
He added that if things went according to plan, Bonga and Dimma would close in April. Bonga is home to about 5,000 refugees, while Dimma houses more than 2,600.
Returnees questioned here on Saturday said they were looking forward to going home. "I hope this will be the end of a terrible time in my life," said 35-year-old Luka Ruthko Yudurae, who was going home with his wife and six children more than two decades after fleeing civil war in South Sudan.
Tapka Naga, a 30-year-old mother of four, said she and her husband planned to become farmers and to educate their children at home. "I have been trying to connect my children to their motherland by telling them stories which I gleaned from fellow refugees who are older than me," said Naga, who left Sudan aged nine and does not remember very much about her village.
The organized repatriation of Sudanese refugees from Ethiopia started in March 2006 and UNHCR, working closely with the government and partners, has since helped more than 23,000 refugees go home. With the bureaucratic problems solved, return convoys are now expected to take place every week from Bonga. Convoys are also likely to start soon from Sherkole, Fugnido and Dimma camps.
Before leaving Bonga, the returnees received a repatriation package of blankets, jerry cans, sleeping mats, a water filter and a sanitary kit for females. They will receive more supplies at Kurmuk, including plastic sheeting, mosquito nets, plastic buckets, kitchen utensils and soap.
Upon arrival in Sudan, a reintegration package comprising three months of food, seeds and agricultural tools will be provided by the World Food Programme and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization.
By Kisut Gebre Egziabher in Bonga, Ethiopia