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UNHCR Repatriating 400 Sudanese Refugees From DRC

The U.N. refugee agency is planning to repatriate some 400 Sudanese refugees currently in northeastern Democratic Republic of Congo Wednesday. They are living in the Aba area, home to some 5,000 Sudanese refugees, of whom 3,200 have registered for voluntary repatriation.

The U.N. refugee agency says many Sudanese refugees have lived in exile for two decades and are eager to return to their country. UNHCR spokesman, Ron Redmond, says the substantial turnout for voluntary repatriation is not the only sign that Sudanese refugees are keen to go home.

"Many of them already returned spontaneously on their own," he said. "Earlier this year, we organized 'go and see visits' so that camp leaders from the DRC could go home, take a good look at the living conditions, talk to local authorities and then go back and report about conditions to the other refugees still in the camps in DRC."

Redmond acknowledges that living conditions in Southern Sudan are very difficult. After more than two decades of civil war, he says the infrastructure is basically gone. He says everything has to be rebuilt, including schools, clinics, and telecommunications. Nevertheless, he says people are going back.

"They are getting assistance from various agencies and there are lots of them now working on the ground," he said. "The 100,000 people for example who went back spontaneously, once they got back, many of them are now taking advantage of help that is being provided by international organizations. UNHCR has at least a half a dozen offices spread across the region. The program is really just starting to gain momentum."

Redmond says it has taken awhile to get sizable numbers of people to go back from their countries of refuge. But, he says, the more that go back, the more sign up to go back.

Since a peace agreement was signed in 2005, the UNHCR has assisted 13,000 refugees from Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda, the DRC and Central African Republic to go home. Another 100,000 have gone back on their own. However, 350,000 Sudanese refugees remain in camps in neighboring countries and another four million people are displaced within Sudan itself.

Redmond says road conditions from Congo's Aba area are poor. So, it will take two or three days to return the 400 Sudanese refugees to their home villages. He says they will be provided with basic material assistance upon their return. This includes construction materials, household items and a three-month food ration.

The UNHCR spokesman says regular returns from Aba are expected to continue over the coming months at a rate of one convoy a week.