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UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs

ERITREA-SUDAN: Progress on repatriation of Eritrean refugees

ASMARA, 13 June 2003 (IRIN) - The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has reached an agreement with the governments of Eritrea and Sudan on where to open a humanitarian corridor between the two countries to facilitate the repatriation of thousands of Eritrean refugees, the UNHCR has said.

"We have reached agreement on the location of the border crossing, that will allow the resumption of repatriation to begin soon," Christian Koch, acting head of UNHCR in Eritrea, told IRIN on Wednesday.

Describing the agreement with the two governments as an "important breakthrough", Koch said: "I am confident that we're going in the right direction and that in a short time we'll be able to fine-tune the operational aspects of the repatriation to start moving the convoys".

"We're under time pressure. We're very interested in getting some people home before the rains start so they can benefit from the planting season," Wendy Rappeport, external relations officer with UNHCR told IRIN.

Written communications from the two governments, agreeing that the corridor should be located on the Laffa-Talatasher road which crosses the Eritrean-Sudanese border, were received by UNHCR on 5 and 7 of June respectively. This resolves a key issue discussed in parallel negotiations between UNHCR and the two governments.

There has been no direct communication on repatriation between the two governments since October 2002, when deteriorated relations between them led to their mutual border being closed.

Negotiations with the governments have been ongoing since October 2002 to allow the voluntary repatriation to resume. So far, about 36,000 Eritreans have registered to be repatriated, 32,000 of whom have been verified by the Eritrean Relief and Refugee Commission (ERREC) as genuine Eritreans, and therefore allowed to return home.

Over 100,000 have applied to stay in Sudan. A registration process is ongoing to establish how many of the estimated 340,000 Eritreans in Sudan wish to stay there, and how many are eligible to do so. Since the beginning of this year, Eritreans have to apply individually to either UNHCR or the Sudanese government to retain their refugee status, which ceased at the end of 2002.

Between June 2000 and October 2002, before the border was closed, 103,000 Eritreans returned home from Sudan.

Since the stalling of the repatriation, UNHCR has been concentrating on reintegrating those who had already returned, by providing basic services for them like schools, water points, health facilities and income-generating activities.

"We are giving them the basic conditions to allow them to become economically self-reliant," Koch told IRIN. "Those who have come back are therefore less of a burden for the Eritrean authorities and it has made their reintegration into Eritrean society easier."


Theme(s): (IRIN) Refugees/IDPs



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