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Sudan: Real Security Vital For Refugee Returns

‘Real Security’ Vital For Any Refugee Returns To Southern Sudan – UN

Preparing for the return of hundreds of thousands of Sudanese to their homeland if current peace talks end two decades of conflict, the United Nations refugee agency stressed today that repatriation could only succeed if potential returnees see real security on the ground, including protection from armed groups and militias.

A high-level team from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) spent two weeks meeting with refugees in neighbouring Uganda, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), and Kenya to sound them out about returning to southern Sudan if talks between the Government and the Sudanese People's Liberation Movement succeed. The talks in the Kenyan town of Naivasha have encouraged UNHCR to re-establish its presence in south Sudan after a 14-year absence.

“We felt it was important to hear directly from the refugees themselves how they feel about returning home," Dennis McNamara, UNHCR's Inspector General and leader of the four-person team, said in Nairobi, the Kenyan capital.

According to the agency, refugees have emphasized that their first concerns were protection and security during and after their return. "We want to go home, but only when we are sure it is really safe on the ground," UNHCR quoted one leader as saying. "We have learned from 1972 that peace agreements have to be respected and implemented if we are going to be able to go home permanently." That year began the only decade since Sudan became independent in 1956 when civil war did not blight the country.

They also stressed the priority of continued education for their children, as well as other basic services including health, water and income-generating activities.

Mr. McNamara’s mission was part of the planning for the return of over 150,000 refugees in the first 18 months after the signing of any peace accord.

The war in southern Sudan is separate from the conflict in the western Darfur region of Africa’s largest country that has seen 110,000 refugees flee into eastern Chad. Overall, fighting is estimated to have uprooted more than 3 million people inside Sudan, while a further 600,000 are living in neighbouring states as refugees.

Mr. McNamara said he was especially interested in the views of women who said they were very concerned about security in south Sudan, particularly the presence of militias. Landmines and small arms are also a problem. Schooling for children is a top priority, the women indicated, calling for a major drive to improve literacy at all levels.

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