UN refugee agency gears up for largescale returns in South Sudan

“We are taking steps to help south Sudanese refugees decide for themselves whether the time is right to go home,” Jennifer Pagonis, spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees said today. The official start of the voluntary repatriation operation is scheduled to begin before the end of the year, providing the security situation stabilizes, the agency said.On Thursday it is organizing what it calls “go-and-see visits” for two delegations of Sudanese refugees from Kakuma camp in north-western Kenya, where over 2,000 refugees have registered for repatriation. In each case, refugee representatives will be flown to tour their towns in Southern Sudan and meet with the local authorities and relatives they have not seen for many years. The delegations will go back to Kakuma on the same day and will inform their fellow refugees in of the situation.Some refugees are not waiting for UNHCR’s assistance. After years of walking across huge swathes of Africa, and more years living in exile as a refugee, Malak – now a 29-year-old father of three – has come back to Bor, in south-eastern Sudan, 16 kilometres from his home village.”It has been a very long journey since I left Bor almost twenty years ago,” said Malak. “But now I am back to my land to rebuild South Sudan, to help my people.”UNHCR adds that international organizations must focus now on rebuilding essential infrastructure in towns such as Bor, which is swelling with returnees but where people drink from the Nile because the water system was destroyed by the war.Shortly, a group of up to 12,000 Dinka people and half a million cattle are scheduled to start moving back to the Bor region. During the war, the group had migrated to the Western part of the country and split up in 34 cattle camps.UNHCR, together with other UN agencies and non-governmental organizations, has set up a way station 15 kilometres north of Juba for the Dinka returnees. Returnees will be able to spend the night there and will get a World Food Programme (WFP) food ration for 15 days as they continue their journey. UNHCR will register the returnees and provide protection monitoring. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) plans to organize the transport of pregnant women, elderly and disabled people by barge from Juba to Bor. In the meantime, the new Government of southern Sudan, along with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organization (WHO) are today kicking off the largest-ever measles immunization campaign in the region, which hopes to reach 4.5 million children in the next 18 months.The ambitious campaign is only possible, said UNICEF, because the peace agreement opened up access routes within southern Sudan and established a new government structure covering the whole region, with strong donor support. read more