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UN re-starts stalled repatriation of Sudanese refugees from western Ethiopia

UN re-starts stalled repatriation of Sudanese refugees from western Ethiopia

The United Nations refugee agency has resumed its repatriation of Sudanese from a camp in western Ethiopia after the operation had been halted for nearly two months because of bureaucratic problems.

A convoy of vehicles carrying 605 people left Ethiopia’s Bonga camp for Sudan’s Blue Nile state at the weekend, expecting to reach their destination by today, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported. Almost two thirds of the group were aged under 18.

UNHCR hopes this convoy – the first of its kind since 29 December – will lead to the resumption of regular repatriations from Bonga to neighbouring Sudan, where the long-running north-south civil war ended in early 2005.

Cosmas Chanda, UNHCR’s deputy representative in Ethiopia, said that the agency plans to close Bonga – currently home to about 5,000 refugees – and another nearby camp, Dimma, which houses over 2,600.

The plan is to conduct weekly convoys from Bonga and also start convoys of returns from Dimma and the other two camps in the area, Sherkole and Fugnido.

Returnees receive a repatriation package of blankets, jerry cans, sleeping mats, a water filter and a sanitary kit for females. When they pass the Ethiopian-Sudanese border crossing at Kurmuk, they will also receive plastic sheets, mosquito nets, buckets, kitchen utensils and soap.

In addition, the World Food Programme (WFP) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) distribute three months of food, seeds and agricultural tools to the returnees once they reach their destination in Sudan.