As the United Nations refugee agency prepares to repatriate hundreds of thousand of southern Sudanese from neighbouring countries by the end of the month, its first advance team of refugees in Central African Republic (CAR) has returned from a fact-finding visit to their home areas.
Returning to CAR on Wednesday after five days in south Sudan, the group of two men and two women said they were positive about the prospect of returning, despite the poor infrastructure and the lack of health and educational facilities.
The refugee representatives, who have been in exile for more than a decade, flew from Mboki camp in CAR to Tambura in the western part of south Sudan, and then were warmly welcomed in their areas of origin in Source Yubu and Mupoi. Local officials from Tambura accompanied the refugees back to Mboki in CAR and appealed to the camp residents to return to Sudan to help rebuild their country.
In the first stage of the repatriation operation, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) plans to start return flights for 12,400 refugees from Mboki camp to Tambura before the end of this month.
Overall, there are 36,000 south Sudanese refugees in CAR, and some 500,000 in other neighbouring countries.
There were also 4 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) from south Sudan in the country, including 1.8 million in the capital, Khartoum, 1.7 million in south Sudan and 500,000 in East Sudan.
UNHCR's operation in south Sudan still remains substantially underfunded, with only $39 million available out of the $76.3 million needed.
The teams will set up offices in Kapotea, Bor and Nasir in the eastern part of south Sudan in preparation for the return of Sudanese refugees from Ethiopia, where there are 90,000 southern Sudanese refugees, and Kenya, where there are 65,000, in the next few months. A roving team based in Juba will set up way stations for the refugees to stay during the return voyage.
Emergency UNHCR teams, leaving from Geneva next Monday on a chartered cargo flight, are taking 37 metric tons of gear, including telecommunications and electronic equipment, so they can set up new, operational offices as quickly as possible. They will also take tents to use as offices, as well as portable warehouses and security equipment, financed by the Government of Norway.