Wendy Chamberlin, deputy high commissioner of the U.N. refugee agency, lauded the recently-signed peace deal between the Sudanese government and the Sudan People's Liberation Army, ending 21 years of war.
"Hundreds of thousands of refugees, who we have been caring for in asylum countries with host governments like the Kenyan government, the Ugandan government, DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo), will be able to recognize one of their dreams, and that is to go home. And UNHCR is committed to helping over 200,000 refugees return home to Sudan, as has been their anticipation and expectation and dream for too many decades," Ms. Chamberlin said.
But, Ms Chamberlin says, in many cases, people will be returning to war-ravaged communities that are still unsafe, lack basic infrastructure and services, such as water, education and healthcare, contain landmines, and have little opportunities for earning an income.
She says her agency is currently assessing the situation of internally displaced people in Sudan and refugees outside the country's borders, who are ready to return home.
She says her agency, which will focus mainly on Sudan's Equatorial region, is asking for $40 million for 2005 for the initial preparation phase, but will likely need more money in the coming years for the repatriation effort in Sudan.
Ms Chamberlin could not say when her agency would begin moving people back to Sudan, but estimated it would probably be in September.
"Movements have already begun, but they have not been what you would call large, assisted movements," Ms. Chamberlin noted. "Frankly, we won't encourage people to go back, until the conditions are really ready for them to return, both in safety and a way we can assure some sustained livelihood. When will that be? I'm not sure anybody knows."
The UNHCR estimates that 223,000 Sudanese refugees are in Uganda, 60,000 in Kenya, and 88,000 and in Ethiopia. Sudanese refugees are also found in Democratic Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic and Egypt.
The north-south war, which began in 1983, has claimed about two million lives and displaced up to four million people.