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UNHCR Suspends Repatriation to South Sudan

The U.N. refugee agency says it is suspending the repatriation of Sudanese refugees from the Central African Republic, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to several areas of South Sudan. The UNHCR says this decision follows recent armed attacks in the region.

The U.N. refugee agency says it will not help Sudanese refugees return to the Yei, Yambio, Kajo Keji, and Tambura areas in southern Sudan until security improves.

Spokeswoman Jennifer Pagonis says international staff working in these locations in Central and Western Equatoria, have been relocated or are in the process of being moved to other areas in south Sudan. She says the aid workers will remain in the new areas for two weeks while the agency reviews the situation.

"The decision was taken after the heavy fighting in Yambio on Saturday night near an NGO [non-governmental organization] compound," she said. "The Sudanese Peoples Liberation Army intervened and scattered the armed groups. And, even though UNHCR was not targeted directly, in view of the extremely volatile situation, we decided to relocate our two staff."

The attack in Yambio follows an assault on the UNHCR compound in Yei last week.

Two armed intruders entered the compound, killed one guard and wounded another. An international staff member also was shot. Pagonis says the two injured men were transported to a hospital in Nairobi. She says the guard now is out of danger, while the staff member remains in critical, but stable condition.

She says one of the intruders was captured by local people and turned over to the police.

Pagonis says an investigation into the identities of the attackers and their motive is still under way.

"We are sending a team of three people today from Geneva who will assess the security situation in the repatriation areas of South Sudan and evaluate the measures needed to ensure the security and safety of our staff," she added. "We have also had people, since the incident in Yei, there has been UNHCR people down on the ground there evaluating the situation, but the incident in Yambio just underline the difficulties in that area."

The UNHCR was to begin a first repatriation movement last week from the Democratic Republic of Congo, but was forced to suspend the operation after Yei was attacked.

The agency says it is concerned that its plan to assist thousands of Sudanese refugees return home is under threat from banditry and ongoing violence.

An estimated 350,000 Sudanese refugees from south Sudan are in neighboring countries and some four million more are displaced within Sudan. These people fled their homes during Sudan's 21-year civil war that ended with a peace agreement 14 months ago.