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Sudanese refugees can return, accord with Ethiopia

Some 73,000 Sudanese refugees can return under new accord with Ethiopia – UN

Some 73,000 South Sudanese refugees currently in Ethiopia can start going home thanks to an agreement signed by the United Nations refugee agency and the Governments of Ethiopia and Sudan.

The tripartite agreement, which was signed in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa on Monday, sets out the legal framework for the repatriation as well as the roles and obligations of all three parties, according to an official with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), who said it includes crucial provisions on the voluntary nature of the returns.

“It gives me immense pleasure to sign this agreement on behalf of UNHCR,” said the agency’s Operations Director for the Sudan Situation Jean-Marie Fakhouri. He pointed out that beyond just an endorsement, action would be required. “However, this meeting is a ceremony and hopefully all parties will work together for the successful implementation of the commitments made through this agreement.”

UNHCR hopes to start the voluntary repatriation from Ethiopia by mid-March. “Ten thousand refugees could voluntarily go home before the rainy season in South Sudan sets in,” Mr. Fakhouri said.

The 73,000 refugees live in five camps in western Ethiopia – Bonga, Dimma, Fugnido, Sherkole and Yarenja. Most of the refugees arrived in Ethiopia in 1983 and in the 1990s as a result of the civil war in South Sudan.

While the desire to return home is strong, UNHCR is concerned over the severe funding constraints hampering its return and reintegration operations in South Sudan and has urged the international community to fully support these efforts. The agency said it has received only $8 million of the $63 million needed in 2006.

UNHCR, together with the government of Sudan, UN agencies, NGOs and other partners, is trying to ensure minimal conditions are in place so that refugees and other displaced people can return to a minimum of basic services in their war-devastated region.

The Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) that ended 21 years of north-south civil war in Sudan was concluded in Naivasha, Kenya, in January 2005 – just over a year ago.

“The pledges made in Oslo at the Donors' Conference for Sudan last year must deliver their promises for the over 350,000 Sudanese refugees in the region to go back home and resume normal life," said Ethiopia's State Minister of the Foreign Affairs Ministry, Tekeda Alemu, who signed the tripartite agreement.

Brigadier Aleu Ayieny Aleu, who signed for Sudan, thanked the Ethiopian Government and its people for taking care of the refugees for so many years and called on the refugees to return home and help rebuild their country.

To facilitate informed decisions by refugees considering returning, UNHCR is planning “go-and-see” visits from Ethiopia to South Sudan in the second week of March. Under this scheme, refugee representatives visit South Sudan and then return to inform the other refugees about the living conditions in the places of return.

Under the agreement, Ethiopia has pledged to continue to safeguard the rights of refugees who decide to stay in that country for now. There are some 350,000 South Sudanese refugees in neighbouring countries, and 4 million more Sudanese displaced within their own country.

© Scoop Media

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