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SUDAN-UGANDA: Refugee repatriation to gather pace

KAMPALA, 10 May 2007 (IRIN) - Voluntary repatriation of Southern Sudanese refugees from Uganda is set to increase with the introduction of a third corridor of return to Eastern Equatoria state in August, the United Nations Refugee Agency, UNHCR, said on Wednesday.

Officials from Uganda, South Sudan and the UNHCR met in Kampala and agreed that the pace of return should be expedited, despite the logistical challenges.

UNHCR’s spokeswoman in Kampala, Robertta Russo, told IRIN that the agency expected more people to volunteer to return home to southern Sudan. "Seventy percent of the refugees in Uganda are from Eastern Equatoria and we are expecting a lot of people wanting to go back home," she said.

Hundreds of thousands of people sought safety in neighbouring countries after the civil war between former rebels of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army (SPLAM/A) and the Khartoum-based government broke out in 1983. The war formally ended in 2005 with the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement between the government and the SPLM/A, which now runs a semi-autonomous administration in South Sudan.

Russo noted that the bulk of the US$65 million appeal to fund the repatriation exercise had not been received. "We appealed for $65 million, but we have only managed to realise 25 percent of that and we have to look for avenues to bridge the gap," she said.

At the meeting on Wednesday, a 'Framework Joint Plan of Action for Enhancing Voluntary Repatriation and Reintegration of Sudanese Refugees in Uganda' was endorsed.

Uganda hosts 221,000 refugees, including 165,936 Sudanese living in settlements in northwestern and western Uganda. About 11,000 Sudanese refugees have left camps in Uganda and gone back home since the signing of the peace agreement.

The tripartite commission agreed to undertake resource mobilisation jointly and resolved to organise a donor conference to raise funds for repatriation and reintegration programmes and rehabilitation projects in areas of Uganda that hosted the refugees.

"As the repatriation operation progresses and continues to gather momentum, the government and people of Uganda, particularly the refugee-hosting communities, will require integrated post-repatriation support to rehabilitate the environment, their infrastructure and economy. We appeal to donors and development agencies to support this worthy initiative in partnership with concerned local communities,” said Stefano Severe, UNHCR representative in Uganda.




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