Eritreans in Sudan to lose refugee status, UN agency says

Eritreans in Sudan to lose refugee status, UN agency says

Eritrean refugees returning from the Sudan
With today marking the end refugee status for more than 320,000 Eritreans in the Sudan, thousands of people are coming forward seeking continued protection while others are asking to be taken home or applying to remain as immigrants, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has reported.

"There has been a pick-up in registration for refugee status determination these last several weeks," Ahmed Said Farah, UNHCR's representative in the Sudan, said yesterday. "The mass information campaign to inform the Eritrean refugees of their options is active, and registration centres are open daily."

More than 25,100 family heads representing over 100,000 Eritreans have so far approached the 30 joint UNHCR-Government of the Sudan screening teams operating in refugee hosting areas of Khartoum, Port Sudan and in the eastern regions, Kassala, Wad Madane and Gedaref.

The UN agency said that its repatriation programme would continue until everyone who has registered has gone home. Those Eritreans found to be still in need of international protection after undergoing individual screening will be able to remain in their current host country as refugees. Those who do not qualify for asylum after 2002 but who do not wish to return will be expected to legalize their stay in the Sudan, or the other countries where they currently reside.

UNHCR said the root causes of the Eritrean refugee problem no longer exist, as fundamental and durable changes have occurred with the end of the 30-year-old war with Ethiopia in 1991 and Eritrean independence in 1993. At the same time, peace has returned with the signing in June 2000 of a ceasefire agreement between Ethiopia and Eritrea.

The largest number of Eritrean refugees remains in the Sudan. UNHCR currently assists more than 91,000 people in eastern Sudan's refugee camps, while more than three times that number have spontaneously settled in urban centres. Some 5,000 Eritreans also remain in Ethiopia, Yemen and Kenya.