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Southern Sudan: UN-aided return of displaced persons to Blue Nile state gathers pace

Southern Sudan: UN-aided return of displaced persons to Blue Nile state gathers pace

The United Nations-assisted return of internally displaced persons (IDPs) to their homes in southern Sudan’s Blue Nile state is stepping up as the area rebuilds in the wake of the long-running north-south civil war.

Some 747 IDPs have returned home in eight convoys since 23 January, and another two convoys are scheduled for later this week, UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) spokesperson Ron Redmond told reporters in Geneva today.

They represent the first wave of an estimated 15,000 IDPs who UNHCR will help to return under an agreement signed last year by the world body, Sudan’s Government of National Unity and the Government of South Sudan. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the UN World Food Programme (WFP) are also assisting in the effort.

Returnees undergo, who medical screening and mine-awareness training before their journey, receive a three-month food ration from WFP and other items from the UN Joint Logistics Centre.

UNHCR is working with the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) to provide seeds and tools to locals in southern Sudan and to help people living in rural areas develop income-generating activities.

About 165,000 people became displaced in Blue Nile state during the Sudanese civil war – separate to the current conflict engulfing the Darfur region – until a comprehensive peace deal was signed in early 2005.

Another 4,700 Sudanese who had been living in refugee camps inside neighbouring Ethiopia have returned to Blue Nile state so far.

Mr. Redmond said many IDPs registered by UNHCR had expressed a strong desire to return home to Blue Nile despite the state’s under-development and lack of infrastructure. Only 10 per cent of people in the south of the state have access to safe drinking water.

In total, UNHCR estimates there are 4 million southern Sudanese who are internally displaced, including 1.8 million living in the area around the capital, Khartoum.

At least 100,000 former refugees have returned from neighbouring nations to their homes in the south, with the majority doing so on their own but about 30,000 people being assisted by UNHCR.

Some 328,000 refugees from the civil war remain in Uganda, the Central African Republic (CAR), the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Kenya, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Egypt.