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UNHCR Says First Group of Sudanese Refugees Return Home


The United Nations Refugee Agency says a first group of Sudanese refugees from Kakuma Refugee Camp, in northwestern Kenya, should be arriving in their home villages, Tuesday. The agency says this is the first of about 60,000 refugees it plans to bring home in the next five months.

The U.N. Refugee Agency says it flew 130 refugees who have been living for up to 12 years in Kenya's Kakuma camp to South Sudan on Saturday. UNHCR spokeswoman, Jennifer Pagonis, says the last leg of their journey has been made on foot and the refugees should reach their home villages Tuesday.

"All the refugees had advised us in advance that they had friends or relatives waiting for them who would help them transport their belongings back to their home villages, which they left 10 to 20 years ago," she said. "All the returnees were given household goods to help them re-establish their lives and the World Food Program distributed food rations to last six weeks. Because the food is heavy, WFP will make a second distribution with larger amounts in January, by which time the refuges should have a chance to organize transportation of that.

Ms. Pagonis acknowledges the number of returnees is small. But, she says the return of this first group of refugees has symbolic significance. She says it marks the start of the first official repatriation movement conducted by the U.N. refugee agency since the Sudanese government and main southern rebel group signed a peace accord in January, ending 21 years of civil war.

"In addition to the first returnees, a further 1,600 refugees in Kakuma have signed up to return to South Sudan-mainly to the Upper Nile region," she continued. "During the dry season, which should last until about May 2006, we expect to help about 10,000 South Sudanese refugees return from Kakuma and another 50,000 to return from refugee camps in six other neighboring countries."

Ms. Pagonis says the Refugee Agency is planning to organized returns from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Central African Republic next month. In February, it will start returning Sudanese refugees from Ethiopia. She says it could take at least four years to help all of the one-half million people who fled into exile go back to Southern Sudan.

The United Nations also expects that many of the four to six million people displaced by the war within Sudan will return to the homes they fled in the coming years.