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Southern Sudan: Refugees and Returnees

In our feature series this week, we’ve been looking at the situation in southern Sudan since the peace accord was signed last year. After our overview on Monday, we looked at making a living in Sudan and at health care. Tonight, we find out about those displaced by the war – refugees and internally displaced persons – and how both groups are doing.

David Gressly is the UNHCR’s humanitarian coordinator for Sudan. From Juba, he told VOA English to Africa reporter Cole Mallard the UNHCR hopes to return some 400,000 refugees to Sudan over the next two years, and that of the four million internally displaced, so far only a little over a million have voluntarily returned home to the south.

He says it’s been more difficult to facilitate refugees than the internally displaced because of the lack of security in southern Sudan along the northern border with Uganda, mainly because of the Lord’s Resistance Army.

He adds that the UNHCR “had hoped to repatriate more than 60,000 people this year from refugee camps in Central African Republic, Congo and Uganda, but because of insecurity could only return 10,000.”

Gressly says the UNHCR has “been working to assist key groups we consider to be vulnerable, particularly those living in South Darfur coming back to the Balegazal area, in addition to groups in the south that are trying to get back home from areas in Equatoria, so we’ve assisted about 20,000 such people to come back.”

He says the main type of aid supplied is food, adding the World Food Program has pre-positioned more than 34,000 metric tons of food for people returning this season. Gressly says UNICEF supplies water and educational support, the WHO provides health services, and local NGOs coordinate delivery. The UNHCR representative says they try to accommodate all who need food, but the refugees maintain priority. He says that during the war more than 80% of the food aid was flown in, which was extraordinarily expensive. But this year; because of the WFP’s road construction efforts, more than 80% of the food is being delivered by land.

Gressly says, “The roads have been a boon for the local economy, opening up the south for the first time in 20 years, providing access for commodities to come into the country, lowering prices, and allowing freedom of movement for the first time in 20 years. It’s really an extraordinary accomplishment!”

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