Home | News    Wednesday 4 February 2004

UN agency set to reopen office in Sudanese refugee camp

BANGUI, Feb 04, 2004 (IRIN) — The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is due to reopen its office in a Sudanese refugee camp in eastern Central African Republic (CAR), which it closed in December 2002 due to insecurity, an official told IRIN on Wednesday.

The UNHCR roving field officer, Jean-Richard Fabomy, said the decision to reopen the office was motivated by the progress made in negotiations in Kenya between the Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement and the government of Sudan. The two parties signed a wealth-sharing agreement in January.

A UNHCR team is in Camp Mboki, 1,200 km east of the CAR capital, Bangui, to assess the requirements for the rehabilitation of the office, which is expected to become operational in March, Fabomy said.

An estimated 27,000 Sudanese refugees live in 20 villages that make up Camp Mboki, which opened in 1990. Although Sudanese refugees started entering the CAR in 1968, their numbers increased in the 1980s and 1990s when thousands fled civil war in southern Sudan.

Fabomy toured Mboki on Saturday and Sunday to assess the state of the UNHCR office.

"The UNHCR team in Mboki will educate refugees [on repatriation], carry out a census and organise voluntary repatriation," he said.

He added that many of the refugees were keen to return home as soon as a peace agreement between the SPLM and the government was signed.

He said that a repatriation programme for the Sudanese would start in July. Most refugees are from Bahr El Ghazel region in Sudan.

Leaders of the refugees had told the UNHCR that some 7,000 refugees had returned home on their own. Fabomy said the spontaneous returns were as a result of insecurity as incursions into the camp by Sudanese rebels were frequently reported.

The UNHCR closed its office in Mboki in December 2002, when insecurity provoked by armed people, reported to be former rebel fighters, increased in the camp. In the same year, the UN World Food Programme ended its food distribution programme in the camp, saying that the refugees had attained the same level of food security as the locals.

Fabomy said integration between the Sudanese refugees and the locals had been easy, as they all belonged to the Zande ethnic group. The refugees, who live in 20 villages stretching on a 25 km by 8 km area, have engaged in farming.

After the closure of the UNHCR office, Fabomy said, Canadian charity Oxfam and later the Spanish NGO, Medicos Sin Fronteras, took over the camp’s hospital, which has no medical doctor.