The United Nations refugee agency has resumed its repatriation of Sudanese from a camp in western Ethiopia after the operation had been suspended for six months because of poor weather and road conditions.
A convoy of buses and trucks carrying 610 refugees left Ethiopia’s Bonga camp for Sudan’s Blue Nile state, about 820 kilometres away, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported. As many as two-thirds of the group were aged under 18 and probably born and raised in Ethiopia.
The journey is expected to take three days, and the refugees will stay at UNHCR transit centres each night. During the rainy season, which began in May, the roads from Bonga – which is currently home to about 7,000 people – into Sudan had been impassable.
Ilunga Ngandu, UNHCR regional liaison representative for Africa, said the agency expects to repatriate about 30,000 Sudanese refugees between now and the end of next year, which could allow officials to close at least two of the four Ethiopian camps sheltering Sudanese refugees.
To help with their reintegration into their former communities, returnees receive a package of blankets, jerry cans, sleeping mats, a water filter and a sanitary kit for women, as well as plastic sheeting, mosquito nets, plastic buckets, kitchen utensils and soap. When they reach their destinations in Sudan, they also receive three months of food, seeds and tools from the World Food Programme (WFP) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
In a related development, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) is calling for an urgent injection of $3 million to prevent cutbacks in food distribution by March to refugees living in Ethiopia.
WFP provides monthly food rations to some 80,000 refugees in Ethiopia, about half of them originally from Sudan. But UN agencies say that a poor rainy season and the impact of desert locusts in much of the country is threatening food security.