The UN refugee agency says more Sudanese refugees in Uganda are voluntarily returning to their homes in South Sudan following the withdrawal of the Ugandan rebel group, the Lord's Resistance Army, from the area. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from UNHCR headquarters in Geneva.
The UN refugee agency says security has gradually returned to many parts of Eastern Equatoria State in Sudan following the departure of the rebel Lord's Resistance Army around the middle of this year. It says this has boosted the confidence of many Sudanese refugees who want to return home.
UNHCR Spokesman, William Spindler, says his agency will be helping more Sudanese who wish to return home. To facilitate the returns, he says the UNHCR has opened a new corridor through the town of Nimule, on the southern tip of Sudan's border with Uganda.
"The new route links the refugee settlements in Uganda with Eastern Equatoria State in Sudan. Uganda hosts one of the largest populations of Sudanese refugees. Some 70 percent of the 160-thousand Sudanese refugees living in a string of 11 camps in Uganda originate from Sudan's Central and Eastern Equatoria States," he said. "Nimule is the third repatriation corridor between the two countries."
The Lord's Resistance Army has waged a civil war against the Ugandan government for more than a decade. Since the mid-1990s, it has been active in Eastern Equatoria State, using Sudanese territory as a base.
From there, it mounted attacks into northern Uganda. The rebels terrorized villagers, abducted residents and regularly ambushed vehicles traveling via Nimule from northern Uganda to Juba in south Sudan.
Spindler says he expects that in the coming months, many Sudanese will return to homes they fled years ago during the civil war in south Sudan. The civil war ended with a peace agreement in 2005. Spindler says most will probably go back on their own, but some will need help from the UNHCR.
"One of the reasons why we expect the numbers to increase in the next few months is that many people want to go back in time to enroll their children for the next school season, which I think is around October," said Spindler. "So, many of them will want to go back before then so that the children can start a new academic year in Sudan…We help the most vulnerable ones. And, we assist some of them with transport, and we also assist some of the ones that return spontaneously. We have a return package which includes basic relief items."
Spindler says the UNHCR also is continuing to organize voluntary repatriations of Sudanese from Kakuma camp in northwestern Kenya. He says, so far, more than 25,000 Sudanese refugees have returned home.