AFRICA/SUDAN - UN High Commission for Refugees Unite prepares to assist repatriation of more than 3.6 million Sudanese refugees

Thursday, 18 March 2004

Rome (Fides Service)- “We thought it was important to find out how refugees felt with regard to repatriation” said Dennis McNamara, Inspector general of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees Unite UNHCR, who led a team of four persons to meet Sudanese refugees in Uganda, Democratic Republic of Congo and Kenya. In a statement sent to Fides UNHCR said that the two week mission touched also Khartoum and southern Sudan.
The refugees said that their main concern was threats to protection and safety during and after their return, including threats from armed and militia groups. "We want to go home, but only when we are certain that the situation is safe " a representative said on behalf of the refugees.
The refugees also underlined the importance of schooling for the children and other essential services such as medical care, access to water, possibility to engage in activity which brings income. “Our specific intention was to evaluate the situation in those countries hosting large numbers of Sudanese refugees, to see what needs to be done to encourage voluntary repatriation in conditions of security” McNamara added during a stop in Nairobi. The mission is part of UNHCR activity to programme repatriation for more than 150,000 refugees within 18 months of the signing of the peace agreement.
Representatives of organisations of Sudanese women told the UNHCR team that they were concerned for the conditions of security in southern Sudan, especially because of the presence of groups of armed militia. Land mines and diffused weapons were mentioned as ulterior reasons for apprehension. Education for children is a priority and the women called for a programme to improve literacy among women.
Progress in peace talks in Naivasha, Kenya between the Khartoum government and the Sudanese People's Liberation Movement, SPLM have encouraged UNHCR to re-establish its presence in southern Sudan after an absence of 14 years. An UNHCR team is planning to open an UNHCR office in Rumbek, and others at Yei and Yambio. Teams of experts in logistics, mine clearance, engineering and security are presently in the region of Equatoria in southern Sudan, inspecting roads and other infrastructures to be used by convoys carrying returning refugees. Twenty years of civil war left the infrastructures in southern Sudan seriously damaged. If peace talks produce the hoped-for results, the repatriation of Sudanese refugees could be one of UNHCR’s main repatriation operations this year.
War in Sudan produced 3 million internally displaced persons and 600,000 refugees in neighbouring countries, mostly in Uganda (223,000), Chad (110,000), Ethiopia (80,000), Democratic Republic of Congo (69,000) and Kenya (60,000). Refugees in Chad arrived in recent months fleeing war in the region of Darfur, west Sudan. (L.M.) (Agenzia Fides 18/3/2004, righe parole)