The United Nations refugee today launched an appeal for $11.9 million to help assist the return of refugees, mainly from camps in Uganda, Kenya and Ethiopia, to South Sudan.
“If the current return trend is anything to go by, we could complete repatriation to Southern Sudan by the end of 2009 or the first quarter of 2010, provided we get funding on time for the rest of this year and next,” said Mengesha Kebede, Deputy Director of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Africa Bureau, in statement released yesterday.
Earlier this year the agency appealed for $63 million to support the refugee return programme, but it remains short of funds. The programme covers transportation costs as well as the provision of basic services such as clean water, health and education facilities, as well as agricultural assistance to help returnees grow their own food once back home.
“Now is the best time to allow us to be ready to respond to the huge demand for repatriation at the end of the rainy season around October,” Mr. Kebede said.
Nearly 290,000 Southern Sudanese refugees have gone home since UNHCR launched the repatriation operation three years ago. The number of returns has consistently grown in that time, with a record 60,000 in the first half of this year, exceeding by 14,000 the total returns for all of 2007.
The acceleration in repatriation this year was partly spurred by refugees’ desire to take part in the April census, as well as growing confidence in the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) that ended the 21-year North-South civil war.
As general elections approach in 2009, the repatriation momentum is expected to continue. Already some 30,000 South Sudan refugees have requested UNHCR assistance to repatriate during this year's dry season.
In preparation, UNHCR and its partners are gearing to pre-position non-food items such as shelter materials and household goods while expanding reintegration activities and repairing critical facilities at border crossing points.