Ahead of rainy season, UN wraps up Ethiopia-Sudan repatriation programme

Ahead of rainy season, UN wraps up Ethiopia-Sudan repatriation programme

Sudanese refugees at Bonga camp
A 17-truck convoy carrying over 600 refugees, including a newborn baby, completed a three-day journey to southern Sudan, marking the end of the United Nations refugee agency’s repatriation programme from Ethiopian camps before the rainy season begins.

The trip was organized jointly by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

Despite the exhausting trip, which was hindered by heavy rains from Bonga Refugee Camp, the returnees – who spent up to two decades in exile – were in good spirits upon reaching Blue Nile state in Sudan.

“I was born in Bonga camp,” said Samira, an 18-year-old mother, upon arriving in the village of Gindi. “This is the first time I will see Sudan.”

She and her family plan to stay with other relatives until they can construct their own tukuls, or traditional circular shelters made of wood, mud and grass.

“If not, we will sleep in the open,” she added. “It does not bother us, as long as we are in our own country.”

Gindi and another village, Chali, are the two main return areas in southern Blue Nile state, and both have grown rapidly since repatriation picked up steam in the past year.

“When I arrived here a year ago there were only a few people around,” said Jelvas Musau, a field officer for UNHCR. “Since repatriation started in April 2006, we have received 17 convoys and brought back 11,747 people to this area.”

He added that a surge in population has highlighted the need for improved infrastructure, basic services and income-generating projects. UNHCR has repatriated 13,200 refugees to Blue Nile over the past year.

However, development projects in the region are impeded since the state is considered a transitional one whose borders have yet to be formally established.

Those who returned home on the convoy voiced eagerness to contribute to the revival of their home districts struggling to recover after years of conflict.

“I was trained as a blacksmith,” said Oda, a father of four who had spent more than 20 years as a refugee in Ethiopia. “If I can get tools, I will open a shop. If not, I’ll work as a farmer on my land.”

Upon reaching Sudan, UNHCR distributed supplies including plastic sheets, buckets, mats, kitchen sets and mosquito nets, while the UN World Food Programme (WFP) provided food rations to last three months.

“The plastic sheets are particularly needed now that the rains will start,” noted Fouven, who returned home from Ethiopia last year and now works as a community services assistant for the Sudan Social Development Organization, UNHCR’s partner on the ground.

UNHCR will monitor the situation of the repatriated during the rainy season and focus on reintegration efforts, including schools, health clinics and sanitation plants.

While approximately 300,000 Sudanese still live outside their country’s borders, as of the end of last month, the agency has repatriated almost 59,000 refugees to southern Sudan from neighbouring countries. A 2005 peace pact ended the country’s north-south war, but a separate conflict is still raging in the western region of Darfur.