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UN refugee agency resumes repatriations from Uganda to Sudan after health scare

UN refugee agency resumes repatriations from Uganda to Sudan after health scare

The United Nations refugee agency has resumed the repatriation southern Sudanese refugees from Uganda’s West Nile district, six weeks after the operation had to be suspended because of a meningitis outbreak.

Some 13 trucks carrying 600 refugees and their belongings left the district in north-western Uganda, heading for Eastern Equatoria state in southern Sudan, earlier this month, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported yesterday.

The resumption comes as the non-governmental organization (NGO) Médecins Sans Frontières has now vaccinated almost 400,000 southern Sudanese against meningitis.

But UNHCR officials warned that the pace of returns from West Nile to southern Sudan remained slow because of logistical problems within Uganda and the lack of infrastructure and basic services available to refugees as they return to Sudan and try to rebuild their former lives.

“In the cities they have things, but in the countryside there are no schools, no dispensaries, no police,” UNHCR quoted a refugee community spokesperson as saying.

The journey itself is hazardous, and includes a crossing of the Nile on a dilapidated ferry so that areas plagued by armed bandits can be avoided.

UNHCR has helped almost 7,000 Sudanese refugees return home from Uganda and registered more than 16,000 others who made the journey on their own, part of wider efforts to promote returns in the wake of the 2005 agreement ended the 21-year civil war between Sudan’s north and south.

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported that an additional 1,200 internally displaced persons (IDPs) have recently returned from South Darfur, Khartoum or other areas to their former home districts in southern Sudan.

UN agencies have also completed an operation to clear mines and unexploded ordnance (UXO) from one of the main routes for delivering trade and humanitarian aid in southern Sudan.