The UN refugee agency has announced the repatriation of more than 100,000 refugees from South Sudan, under an organised repatriation programme launched in December 2005.
“The 100,000 milestone was passed this (past) week as the pace of return convoys picked up from countries neighbouring South Sudan to get refugees home ahead of the rainy season in May,” the agency’s chief spokesman, Ron Redmond, said.
Apart from helping the refugees return home, the agency is also encouraging them to return to Sudan for the national census planned for 5-30 April, said Redmond in a news dispatch from the agency’s headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland.
“We are now helping some 4,500 refugees return each week to South Sudan – an increase from 3,000 a fortnight ago,” added Arun Sala-Ngarm, Geneva-based head of UNHCR’s South Sudan desk.
“By mid-April, that figure is expected to jump to 6,000 returnees a week as we increase transport for returnees from Uganda and Ethiopia,” Sala-Ngarm added.
The largest number of refugees is returning from Uganda, with some 2,700 returnees a week.
Most of the convoys from Uganda enter South Sudan through the Nimule corridor, one of the 18 land and air routes UNHCR is using to bring refugees back home.
From Kenya, the area that refugees are returning to has been expanded with return flights from Kakuma refugee camp in the north-west now also going to Lakes, Warrab, Unity, Northern and Western Bahrel Ghazal states in Sudan.
More than 5,000 refugees have returned from Kakuma this year, with another 2,000 expected to go home in April.
Returns from Ethiopia, which has some 35,000 refugees from South Sudan in three camps, are expected to result in the closure of two camps.
Returns resumed at the end of last month and are now running at the rate of 1,200 returnees a week.
“This should lead to the closure in April of Bonga, a camp of some 2,300 refugees in the Gambella region of western Ethiopia,” the statement said.
In Sherkole, further north, most of the 6,800 refugees there have expressed a wish to return to their homes in the Upper Nile region.
”It is expected they would have returned by the end of May,” Redmond said.
“More than 8,000 refugees from Dimma and Fugnido camps are also expected to return in April and May this year, leading to the closure of Dimma, a camp of some 2,600,” he added.
The return movements are being organised in collaboration with the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), the German agency GTZ, refugee host governments and the government of South Sudan.
In February, UNHCR launched an appeal for US$63 million to fund the agency’s 2008 operations in South Sudan, including organising the voluntary return and reintegration of Sudanese refugees.
In all, a total of 251,000 refugees have returned to Sudan – 100,000 in organised repatriations and the rest on their own – since the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in January 2005 that ended 21 years of civil war between the north and the south of the country.
Some 260,000 Sudanese refugees remain outside Sudan’s borders.