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UN-assisted refugee convoys to southern Sudan gather pace this week

UN-assisted refugee convoys to southern Sudan gather pace this week

The voluntary return of refugees to southern Sudan following the end of its civil war last year resumes in earnest this week with United Nations-assisted convoys from Ethiopia and the Central African Republic (CAR).

UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) spokesperson Jennifer Pagonis told a press briefing today in Geneva that the agency expects to help almost 20,000 people return from the two neighbouring countries to southern Sudan over the next six months.

Starting tomorrow, the first 500 of an estimated 11,000 Sudanese who have been living in eastern Ethiopia are scheduled to make a four-day journey by bus and truck from the Bonga refugee camp to their villages back in Sudan’s Blue Nile state. Up to 2,000 refugees are expected to make this journey before the end of the month.

Tomorrow’s convoy, the first since operations were suspended in May because the rainy season made the roads impassable, will be comprised mainly of refugees who had previously been declared unfit to travel but have since recovered and received medical authorization for the journey.

The returnees receive repatriation and reintegration packages from the UNHCR, the UN World Food Programme (WFP) and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) that include blankets, jerry cans, sleeping mats, water filters, sanitary kits for women and girls, three months’ supply of food, seeds and agricultural tools.

On Saturday, three flights will carry a total of 150 refugees from Mboki camp in the southeast of the CAR to the town of Tambura in Sudan’s Western Equatoria state. Eventually about 8,000 of the 10,000 residents of Mboki who have expressed interest in returning will be repatriated.

Refugee convoys from the CAR were suspended in April when the border was officially closed, but the CAR’s Government has agreed to re-open it for the purpose of repatriating the Sudanese refugees.

While UN-assisted repatriation from Ethiopia and the CAR to southern Sudan has been suspended until now, convoys continue to make the journey from the Kakuma camp in north-western Kenya. So far 255 people have been returned to Unity state and another 400 refugees are scheduled to be relocated to Jonglei state next week.

In total, 91,588 Sudanese refugees have returned to their homes in the south of the vast country since the long-running civil war formally ended at the start of last year, with almost one in five returning with the help of UNHCR. An estimated 350,000 others remain in exile, mainly in Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia, the CAR and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).