The United Nations refugee agency says it hopes to repatriate up to two million refugees from nine African countries where the situation has improved.
The U.N. refugee agency says conditions for large-scale voluntary returns in Africa have never been better.
UNHCR spokesman Ron Redmond says there are hopeful signs that people who fled conflict in nine African countries years ago soon will be able to go home. These countries include Angola, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Sudan, Eritrea, Somalia, Burundi, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
"For the first time in many years, we see multiple possibilities for the potential repatriation of up to two million of refugees from several African states,"he said. "Some of these repatriations are already under way, some are well into the planning stages, and others await further political developments, or the consolidation on the ground of the necessary conditions for large-scale voluntary return."
Mr. Redmond acknowledges that the outlook is less rosy for more than one million other refugees who cannot return because fighting continues in their home countries. For example, he says, while refugees from southern Sudan could return, fighting in the Darfur region of western Sudan makes repatriation impossible. He says fighting between Sudanese government forces and two rebel groups has caused more than 100,000 people to flee to neighboring Chad since last March.
"Right now, that is the most serious outflow of refugees we have in Africa,"said Ron Redmond. "We would certainly hope that some progress could be made in the coming months, so that [it is] not just southern Sudan, where we are hopeful that something can begin to take place as far as repatriation, but also in the west. Right now, we do not see any imminent repatriation from Chad to the Darfur region taking place."
In Somalia, he says, Somaliland and Puntland are calm enough for refugees to return, but repatriations to central and southern Somalia are not so promising.
Repatriating millions of African refugees will be on the agenda of a ministerial conference the UNHCR will hold in Geneva March 8.