The United Nations refugee agency is accelerating its programme for the voluntary repatriation of tens of thousands of people to southern Sudan from neighbouring countries.
The organized return of some 15,700 Sudanese refugees has taken place so far this year, UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) spokesperson Ron Redmond told reporters in Geneva today, noting the figure is three times more than for the comparative period last year.
The weekly return rate is also increasing – up from about 600 at the immediate beginning of this year to around 3,000 at the start of this month.
Mr. Redmond said the trend is likely to continue over the coming months now that UNHCR and its aid partners have established 16 land and air routes for people to repatriate to southern Sudan, mainly from Kenya, Uganda and Ethiopia.
About two-thirds of this year’s influx has come from Uganda, and many others are believed to have spontaneously returned since late last year without UNHCR assistance. That leaves about 101,000 Sudanese still living in settlements and camps in Uganda.
UNHCR is aiming to organize the voluntary repatriation of as many as 80,000 southern Sudanese this year, with the arrivals coming from Uganda (an estimated 45,000), Kenya (17,000), Ethiopia (16,000) and Egypt (2,000).
The agency has been progressively expanding its repatriation programmes since the signing of a comprehensive peace agreement in January 2005 ending the long-running north-south civil war in Sudan.