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Heavy rains force UN refugee agency to suspend repatriation of Eritreans from Sudan

Heavy rains force UN refugee agency to suspend repatriation of Eritreans from Sudan

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has suspended the repatriation of more than 174,000 Eritrean refugees in the Sudan after heavy rains completely cut off some roads from camps in the western part of the country.

"The rains turned dry riverbeds into swollen streams and have rendered various road crossings in western Sudan impassable," UNHCR spokesman Kris Janowski told the press today in Geneva, warning that the Gash River in Eritrea has also risen and is flooding onto the flat plains of the Gash Barka area, where most refugees are returning. The operation is expected to pick up again at the end of the rainy season in early September.

Since the start of the operation on 12 May, the UN agency has helped nearly 21,000 refugees to return home, and more than 28,000 refugees in 12 of the 23 camps in western Sudan have registered to repatriate. Before the end of the year, UNHCR expects to aid the return of another 40,000 refugees.

On 18 July, UNHCR met with Eritrean authorities in Asmara to review the integration of the returnees, the spokesman said. Authorities report that some villages in the Gerset and Aklelet areas have experienced more than 100 per cent growth, placing great pressure on health and water facilities in these areas. UNHCR and the Eritrean Government agreed to set up a technical committee to work with local authorities who will implement projects to meet the immediate short-term needs of returning populations. The UN agency hopes that other development agencies will also step in to meet longer-term development needs.