The United Nations refugee agency is sending a 15-member team to southern Sudan to start urgently needed reintegration projects in preparation for the return of some 550,000 Sudanese from neighbouring countries now that a peace accord between the Government and rebels has ended Africa’s longest civil war.
The projects, aimed at quickly putting in place the basic groundwork for a voluntary repatriation operation and conditions for refugees to return home, will also benefit some 4 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) who are starting to return on their own to the same areas.
“Refugees in the camps in neighbouring countries have told us they are reluctant to return to a region almost totally lacking in infrastructure and basic services after more than two decades of conflict,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) spokesman Ron Redmond told a news briefing in Geneva today.
He added that for returns to become a reality UNHCR needs immediately funds for the projects. Of the estimated $62 million needed for 2005, the agency has not yet received any contributions. The emergency team deployment and initial rehabilitation projects are being paid for from funds borrowed from operational reserve.
The dispatch of the emergency team follows a trip to the region last week by Deputy High Commissioner Wendy Chamberlin, who heard Sudanese refugees in camps in Kenya and Uganda say that they were eager to return as soon as conditions permit.
Ms. Chamberlin's visit followed the signing of a peace accord a month ago by the Khartoum Government and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM), ending the fighting that left more than 2 million dead in civil strife and war-induced famine.
That war was separate from the conflict in the western Darfur region, where up to 2 million people have been displaced in fighting between rebels, the Government and Janjaweed and other militias. UN officials hope the peace agreement in the south will have a spill-over effect in Darfur.
Five members of the team are already on the ground, five more leave for Sudan later this week, with the others scheduled to depart shortly. They will boost 22 staff already deployed in Rumbek, Juba and Yei in southern Sudan. Their tasks range from simple but important individual assistance to infrastructure work, such as renovating or building schools and health centres and rehabilitating roads and water sources.
They will also focus on creating youth and women's centres to promote reconciliation, education on HIV prevention, mine awareness training, and setting up small income-generating projects.