The U. N. refugee agency has begun a mass voluntary repatriation of Sudanese refugees in the Central African Republic to the homes they fled a decade ago, in what was then war-torn Darfur.
The U. N. refugee agency said a first group of more than 230 refugees have arrived at Sudan's Nyala airport from their camps in Bambari, Central African Republic. The UNHCR said it plans 66 more chartered flights to bring another 1,300 or so refugees to their homes of origin in Sudan's Darfur region by the end of the year.
The refugees are among nearly 3,500 that have lived in Bambari since they fled fighting between Sudanese forces and armed groups in South Darfur. The war in Darfur, which broke out in 2003, has killed tens of thousands and displaced millions of people within and outside the country.
Although sporadic fighting and skirmishes continue with different degrees of intensity, the security situation in South Darfur has been steadily improving, persuading many refugees in the C. A. R. to return home.
UNHCR spokesman Babar Baloch told VOA agency teams have visited the places of origin in Darfur to assess conditions. He said it was deemed safe enough for, at least this first group of refugees to return home.
"But, let us not forget that once they are back, some challenges will still remain," he said. "The places are really remote. There is no infrastructure there as well. So, we hope to continue working with government and other organizations to improve services and keep a watch on what happens when they go back home."
Despite the dark legacy left by the Darfur conflict, a growing number of refugees and internally displaced people have been returning spontaneously to their homes in the last few years.
The UNHCR saod this is largely due to improved security, the signed peace agreements between the government and some armed groups and the presence of the U. N.-African Union hybrid peacekeeping mission in the region.