UNHCR to resume repatriation of Eritreans from Sudan

UNHCR to resume repatriation of Eritreans from Sudan

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the Governments of the Sudan and Eritrea are scheduled to resume a massive return operation this weekend to bring home more than 160,000 Eritrean refugees, many of whom have been in exile since the late 1960s, the agency said today.

A 20-truck convoy carrying more than 200 Eritrean returnees is expected to leave Saturday from Shagarab camp, southwest of the town of Kassala on Sudan's eastern border with Eritrea, UNHCR spokesman Ron Redmond said. The returnees will be transported to a transit centre in the western Eritrea town of Tesseney for an overnight stay. Eritrean authorities will register the returnees and provide basic mine-awareness information before transporting them to their destinations of choice.

"Some of the refugees, who have lived in exile for decades, have no homes to return to," Mr. Redmond said. "Local authorities will give families up to two hectares of arable land to aid their re-integration. In addition, every family will receive a cash grant as well as a two-month food package, household supplies and agricultural tools."

The operation, which began in May this year, was suspended in early July after heavy rains completely cut off some roads from camps in eastern Sudan, the spokesman said. In addition, floods hit the Gash Barka region of western Eritrea - destination for the majority of returning refugees. By the time the operation was suspended in early July, UNHCR had assisted nearly 21,000 refugees to return home.

Nearly 15,000 refugees have so far signed up for repatriation, including 1,900 refugees in the Port Sudan area, where there are an estimated 4,000 refugees who will be assisted home by sea, Mr. Redmond said. UNHCR expects to aid the return of another 40,000 people before the end of the year to reach a target of 62,000 voluntary returns during 2001.

The repatriation and reintegration of these long-term exiles is planned to continue until December of next year, ending one of UNHCR's longest-running refugee situations, according to Mr. Redmond.