On Sunday, the government of Sudan and southern rebels are scheduled to sign a final peace agreement. It would bring to an end a long war that has claimed millions of lives and caused a half million Sudanese to flee to neighboring countries to escape the fighting.
Once the peace agreement is signed, the UN refugee agency, the UNHCR, will begin a long process of repatriating Sudanese refugees. Jennifer Clark is a spokesperson for the UNHCR. From Geneva, she spoke to English to Africa reporter Joe De Capua about the peace agreement and what it will mean for the agency.
Ms. Clark says, “We welcome the agreement. It is a very positive step. It is the very first step in what’s going to be quite a long process of helping people return home, refugees who have fled from southern Sudan. Many of whom have been away from their countries for many years.”
However, much work needs to be done before the refugees return. “Well, there is quite a lack of infrastructure and basic services right now in the south of Sudan. We have opened offices in three places in south Sudan in Rumbek, juba and Yei. And we’ve begun some small-scale rehabilitation, things like community health centers, schools, water facilities to ensure some clean water.”
The largest group of refugees from southern Sudan, about 223,000, is in Uganda. The rest are in Ethiopia, kenya, DRC, CAR and Egypt.
The UNHCR estimates it will cost $60 million this year alone, and says the money is urgently needed even though many donations are now being given for Asian tsunami survivors. The UN agency, however, has not had muck luck in meeting its fund appeals. It says it requested nearly $30 million from donors in 2004, but only received $6.1 million.
The agency continues to operate eleven refugee camps in eastern Chad to accommodate hundreds of thousands of Sudanese who have fled the Darfur conflict. There, the biggest problem continues to be finding enough water. Jennifer Clark warns resources will be severely strained if more Sudanese leave Darfur for eastern Chad. The peace agreement in the south does not affect western Sudan's Darfur region.