Some 73,000 Sudanese refugees, who fled civil war in their country and are currently in Ethiopia, will be allowed to return home under the terms of an agreement expected to be signed on Monday between the United Nations refugee agency, and the Governments of Ethiopia and Sudan.
A spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said today that the tripartite agreement would be signed in Addis Ababa, and that the Agency expected the first return of refugees to take place before the end of March.
“Our teams in south Sudan and in Ethiopia are finalizing way stations and organizing for the delivery of assistance to the future returnees,” Ron Redmond, told the press at a briefing in Geneva.
Monday’s agreement will come more than a year after the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) that ended 21 years of north-south civil war in Sudan.
The Sudanese refugees remain in five camps in Ethiopia – Bonga, Dimma, Fugnido, Sherkole and Yarenja. Most arrived in Ethiopia in 1983 and in the 1990s.
UNHCR said that the tripartite agreement would embody a provision on the voluntary nature of the returns – a crucial principle for all refugee repatriation operations. Sudan should pledge to ensure that refugees can return in safety and dignity, and Ethiopia, on the other hand, pledges to continue safeguarding the rights of refugees who have decided to remain in Ethiopia for the time being.
The Geneva-based Agency said that the agreement will also include a provision for UNHCR's monitoring role to ensure that the returns are strictly voluntary and to monitor the consequences of return.
In all, Ethiopia currently hosts more than 100,000 refugees from Sudan, Somalia and Eritrea. There are still 350,000 Sudanese refugees in neighbouring countries while more than 4 million remain displaced in Sudan itself.