By Isaac Vuni
September 26, 2007 (JUBA) — A total of 158,576 Sudanese refugees from Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Egypt have returned to southern Sudanese since the signing of Comprehensive peace agreement in January 2005 to September 22nd 2007, the UNHCR Mass Information Office Peter Butili has disclosed.
By September 22nd this year, repatriation of Sudanese refugees to southern Sudan and Blue Nile states has reached a cumulative total of 158576 out of which 68,060 were organized and assisted self repatriation.
From January 1st to September 2007 returnees repatriation figures has reached 56,402 and out of which total of 37,575 organized returnees the 4,462 persons were assisted by UNHCR for self repatriation meanwhile a total of 14,365 returned spontaneously.
Briefing member of the press at UNHCR Juba office, today afternoon, Mr. Butili say this week has witness arrival of 206 returnees from Uganda to Eastern Equatoria state who were transported under organized voluntary repatriation.
Meanwhile those who were assisted under voluntary self repatriation programme were 40 returnees out of which 15 came from Ethiopia to Upper Nile state and 25 from Egypt to Central Equatoria, Khartoum, Southern Kordofan, Upper Nile, Warrab and Western Bahr el Ghazal states respectively.
This year UNHCR has targeted to repatriate 102,000 and so far it has repatriated 56,402 and hopefully by end of this year a total of 14,000 would have been repatriated to southern Sudan.
“As part of the government of southern Sudan priority, we are trying to help as much as possible to encourage southern Sudanese refugees to come back so that they are able to participate in the national population census exercise which is just few months to come” remarks Butili; adding that it is the duty of the press to portray positive picture of the situation in southern Sudan to encourage Sudanese refugees to come back to southern Sudan. Otherwise, it would make no sense if a census is conducted while some 400,000 southern Sudanese are people left outside southern Sudan uncounted. Therefore I called upon you the member of the press to give update coverage in sensitizing Sudanese refugees to return home and together we can make a difference, Butili appeals.
Responding to question on how many returnees reception station are set by UNHCR, the senior UNHCR protection officer in Juba, Milagros Leynes said there are seven functional way stations for Sudanese’s returnees in southern Sudan and would be increase as repatriation intensify.
We have to remind our self that the war in southern Sudan took more than 21 years and you cannot expect all the facilities to be there in two years times as infrastructures have been damaged. so repatriation is a process t not an event which will happen overnight and you also need efforts of everybody including returnees.
Responding to allegation that some UNHCR protection officers in Magwi county of Eastern Equatoria state are abusing the rights of returnees, Milagros Leynes says UNHCR has a code of conduct sign by every staff for there day to day operation and behaviors of officials Nevertheless, she said, if such abuses are documented and reported to their office, UNHCR will investigate and takes the necessary action on the abuser.
The senior protection officer, Milagros Leynes says there is a need for additional food ration for returnee’s families in southern Sudan as they are obliged to start from nothing because the 21years of civil war has destroyed all infrastructure including basic livelihood facilities.
In term of cash support to returnees, Milagros Leynes disclosed that UNHCR gives a small amount that covers minor mobility to returnee’s home area but such amount differs from a country of asylum to locations where returnees are willing to return to their respective home land. She emphasizes that UNHCR does not discriminate single parent or individuals returnees in ration distribution because they are all entitle for food items and none food items ration for resettlement.
That UNHCR works in collaboration with WFP and local authority and also conduct join assessment to determine on how to support returnees. Local authorities are also involved in catering for returnees by availing shelter within their reach to returnees.
In a situation a Sudanese is in detention in their country of asylum, the affected person or family have to decide on whether the family could return and leave behind the convicted refugee to complete term of sentence as per law of the county of asylum.
Meanwhile Kmalid Malim says the UNHCR has recently conducted survey on the status and knowledge about HIV/AIDS among the refugees and it revealed that returnees have adequate knowledge and protection about HIV/AIDS therefore there should be no any fears that returnees are carrier rather they should freely integrate in the society.
Regarding complaints that some southern Sudanese returnees have decided to return back to their county of asylum because they could not find any basic services nor get UNHCR support, Mr. Kenneth Conteh say returning to one country is entirely voluntary and those who have decided to return to their original home country automatically looses the protection of UNHCR. But as for some southern Sudanese alleged to have return to Kakuma camp in Kenya, they might have not surrendered their ration cards nor fills a form indicating that they have willingly decided to return to Sudan so if they go back, they can still receive their normal ration in their previous camps.
Peter said there are specific cases of Sudanese who have return to Sudan then later they returned back to Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya and particularly in Jongulie state and unfortunately they are alleged to have been assisted by their state senior government officials and the issue was raised in the trip-ties meeting in Nairobi. “This is a double cost and UNHCR does not condone such action”, remarks Butili.
When ask to what the UNHCR is doing regarding Sudanese refugees in northern Uganda camp willing to return to their original home but they fear that IDPs from Jongulei state have occupied their land; senior protection officer Milagros Leynes say UNHCR is willing to assist the local authority of Jongulei by flying them to go and persuade their IDPs to return Jongulei during the coming dry season. However, she said UNHCR has no power to force them to vacate their current domicile in Eastern Eqatoria state.