The United Nations refugee agency has wrapped up its voluntary repatriation programme for southern Sudanese who had been living in the Central African Republic (CAR), with almost 10,000 people having returned home since early last year to try to rebuild their lives.
The CAR is the first of six nations neighbouring southern Sudan to complete the voluntary repatriation of refugees following the January 2005 end to the 21-year north-south civil war in Sudan.
UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) spokesman Ron Redmond told reporters today in Geneva that the last official repatriation flight from the CAR, which transported 31 returnees from the Bangi refugee camp to the town of Nzara in southern Sudan’s Western Equatoria state, took place on Wednesday.
About 8,400 southern Sudanese have returned from the CAR since February last year on flights arranged by either UNHCR or the International Organization for Migration (IOM), while another 1,319 people have returned on their own.
The number of refugees to have been repatriated to southern Sudan with the assistance of UNHCR has now topped 50,000, with returnees arriving from Kenya, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Uganda, Ethiopia, Egypt and Libya, as well as the CAR.
At a peak in the early 1990s, as many as 36,000 southern Sudanese were living in the CAR, and many returned before the official UN-supported repatriation programme began in 2005. About 2,000 refugees are expected to stay permanently in the CAR because they have established local businesses or bonds.
The first voluntary airlift from Ethiopia is expected to start tomorrow, with a plane carrying 50 refugees scheduled to travel from Gambella to the southern Sudanese town of Juba.
Over the next 10 days, more than 1,000 refugees – mostly ethnic Dinka and Shuluk – will take part in the airlift, which has been arranged because of the lack of roads in much of southern Sudan.
UNHCR provides returnees with basic items before and after departure, including blankets, sleeping mats, water filters, mosquito nets, sanitary kits, soap and cooking sets. The World Food Programme (WFP) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) gives out three months of food rations as well as tools and seeds.