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Number of returning southern Sudanese refugees tops 140,000 – UN agencies

Number of returning southern Sudanese refugees tops 140,000 – UN agencies

More than 140,000 southern Sudanese refugees have returned home since the north-south civil war ended at the start of 2005, but almost twice as many remain in neighbouring countries, the United Nations humanitarian arm reported today.

In its latest update on the situation in southern Sudan, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said of the approximately 143,500 refugees that have returned so far, more than 61,400 were directly helped by either the UN or its partner agencies.

This year alone some 35,380 refugees have returned as the south continues to slowly rebuild in the wake of the comprehensive peace agreement that ended one of the continent’s longest civil wars. The UN aims to repatriate 102,000 refugees in 2007.

But about 270,000 refugees are still outside Sudan, OCHA reported, living in Uganda, the Central African Republic (CAR), the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Kenya, Ethiopia, Eritrea or Egypt.

The UN, the Sudanese Government and the Government of Southern Sudan have been working to boost returns of refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) under a joint plan as part of the comprehensive peace deal which ended the North-South conflict, separate from the fighting that continues to rage in the western region of Darfur between rebel forces, the Government and allied militias.

As many as 850,000 IDPs are estimated to have also returned home to central or southern Sudan during the past two years.

UN humanitarian agencies are also reporting success in their “Go to School” initiative, launched in April last year.

Student enrolment in southern Sudan has leaped from 343,000 during the civil war to 850,000 today, and girls now comprise more than one-third of students. Over 2,500 teachers have been trained, more than 200 new classrooms have been built and another 300 classrooms are being rehabilitated, while school supplies have been provided to all students.