UNHCR suspends repatriation of Eritrean refugees from Sudan
GENEVA - Heavy rains have prompted UNHCR to suspend the overland repatriation of more than 174,000 Eritrean refugees in Sudan.
UNHCR spokesman Kris Janowski said today rains had turned dry river beds into swollen streams and had made various road crossings in western Sudan impassable. In Eritrea, the Gesh river has also risen, flooding the plains of the Gash Barka area, where the majority of the refugees are returning.
Since the start of the return operation on May 12, nearly 21,000 refugees have gone back to homes many left more than three decades ago when the war for independence in Eritrea broke out.
The repatriation is expected to resume at the end of the rainy season in early September.
However, UNHCR is continuing returns by sea from Port Sudan to the Eritrean port of Masawa. Around 4,000 Eritrean refugees live in camps in Port Sudan and thousands more are in the town itself, according to the government.
On Wednesday, UNHCR met with Eritrean authorities in Asmara to review the integration of returnees. Authorities report that some villages in the Gerset and Aklelet areas have experienced more than 100 percent growth, placing great pressure on health and water facilities in the area.
UNHCR is working with Eritrean authorities to implement projects for immediate short-term needs of returning populations. UNHCR hopes other agencies will step in to meet longer term development needs, Janowski said.