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UNHCR Sends Emergency Team To Southern Sudan

The U.N. Refugee Agency says it is sending a 15-member emergency team to southern Sudan to prepare for the return of more than one half million Sudanese refugees in neighboring countries. The agency says the team will start rebuilding vital facilities and basic services.

More than two decades of war have destroyed most of southern Sudan's infrastructure.

U.N. Refugee Agency Spokesman Ron Redmond says the region needs to be rebuilt before an estimated 550,000 refugees and another four million internally displaced people can return home.

"The refugees in the neighboring countries have told us they are reluctant to return to a region that is so devastated," said Ron Redmond. "That is after more than 20 years of conflict. So, the projects that the emergency team will tackle are varied. They range from very simple but important individual assistance to larger infrastructure work."

The 15 experts come from around the world. Mr. Redmond says the experts will, among other things, renovate schools and health facilities, supply school items, bicycles, and training for teachers. They will construct sanitation facilities and rehabilitate roads and community water sources.

Mr. Redmond says this important work is going ahead even though international donors have not contributed the funds needed for the rehabilitation projects.

"Money-wise this program is $62 million required for 2005," he said. "We have so far received nothing. That is why we are so concerned about this because if this repatriation is going to get off the ground and if these people are going to go home and have something to start from, we need that funding now. We need it urgently. Unfortunately, nothing is coming that we know of."

Mr. Redmond says the agency has taken money out of a special emergency fund to get the Sudan projects underway. But, he adds, that money will have to be repaid so it can be used for other emergencies.