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UNHCR Urges Eritrean Refugees in Sudan to Register for Voluntary Repatriation

The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is trying to get hundreds of thousands of Eritrean refugees in Sudan to register for voluntary repatriation. The Eritreans are to lose their refugee status by the end of the year because their native country is considered stable after many years of war.

The U.N. refugee agency estimates hundreds of thousands of Eritrean refugees are living in Sudanese cities. But the agency says it needs to register them in order to get an accurate count.

During the past two years, the UNHCR has repatriated more than 50,000 Eritreans from refugee camps in eastern Sudan.

UNHCR spokesman Kris Janowski said the agency hopes to repatriate about 90,000 other Eritreans who remain in 18 camps. He said the agency now wants to extend its help to urban refugees living in areas around the capital Khartoum and the eastern cities of Kassala, Port Sudan, Gedaref, and Medani.

But Mr. Janowski said some Eritreans, especially those who have been in Sudan a long while, may not want to return to Eritrea. "Once there are no reasons why these people should stay in the Sudan, and once they are not in, what we call in our language 'no longer in need of international protection', then they can go back," he said. "And if they do not want to go back and they are sent back by force, this is a less preferred solution. But, eventually, there is not much that UNHCR can do against it."

Most of the refugees fled to Sudan during the country's 30-year war of independence, which ended in 1991. Others came more recently, as a result of the border war between Eritrea and Ethiopia that lasted from 1998 to 2000.

Mr. Janowski said refugees who take up the UNHCR's offer of voluntary repatriation will receive food, shelter material and other supplies to get them started in their new lives in the country that was once their home.