UGANDA-SUDAN: More refugees to be repatriated
KAMPALA, 6 March 2008 (IRIN) - The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) is to step up the repatriation of Southern Sudanese refugees from Uganda, despite logistical constraints that have slowed progress.
"We expect that up to 50,000 refugees will be repatriated this year," the high commissioner, Antonio Guterres, told reporters in the Ugandan capital of Kampala on 6 March. "Logistics have not been enough ... [but] people want to return home."
Guterres, who visited northern Uganda where most of the thousands of Sudanese refugees live, said UNHCR would double the number of returnees going back each week.
According to government statistics, Uganda hosts 174,000 refugees, including 97,000 Sudanese, after some 60,000 returned home spontaneously in recent years. The current numbers include 39,000 from Democratic Republic of Congo, 18,000 from Rwanda and about 17,000 from Kenya. Since May 2006, UNHCR has helped nearly 35,000 refugees return to South Sudan from Uganda under its repatriation programme.
During a visit to Madi Okollo camp in Arua district on 5 March, Guterres told residents: "When I met with your leaders we agreed that we should intensify the return operation."
Together with the Luxembourg Minister for Development, Cooperation and Humanitarian Affairs, Jean-Louis Schiltz, and Uganda's Minister of Relief and Disaster Preparedness, Tarsis Kabwegyere, Guterres flagged off a convoy carrying 450 refugees to Magwi County, South Sudan.
"Just as we have supported you on this side of the border [in Uganda], we will not forget you in South Sudan," the Luxembourg minister said. "I want to ask you to take up the opportunity for return." Luxembourg is UNHCR's top donor per capita, contributing US$25 per inhabitant in 2006 and 2007.
Many of the refugees in Madi Okollo camp sought shelter at the height of fighting between the Ugandan government and the rebel Lord's Resistance Army (LRA). Talks are currently going on in Juba to end the conflict, which lasted more than two decades.
Guterres told reporters in Kampala that he hoped pressure on UNHCR operations in Uganda would ease once there was more commitment to political engagement and reconciliation in Kenya, where recent political violence had forced civilians across the border.
"We have been visiting the Kenyan refugees and we felt there was still some anxiety among the people," he said. "Many people are afraid to go back. I want to appeal to the new government to carry out national and local engagement so that the people can return."
A political settlement to a disputed December election was reached last week in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, but according to UNHCR, the refugees living in Mulanda, near the Uganda-Kenya border, are still cautious about returning to their homes.
"Many say they are waiting to see how the political settlement will be translated into reconciliation in the border town from where they fled," a UNHCR statement said.
Theme(s): (IRIN) Aid Policy, (IRIN) Conflict, (IRIN) Refugees/IDPs
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