In southern Sudan, the long, slow process of recovering from more than 20 years of civil war is underway. A major part of that is bringing home hundreds of thousands of Sudanese who had fled to neighboring countries.

The UN refugee agency, the UNHCR, is in charge of the repatriation operation. Helene Caux is a spokesperson for the UNHCR and recently returned from southern Sudan. From Geneva, she spoke to English to Africa reporter Joe De Capua about repatriation efforts.

?The first repatriation movement started December 17th from Kakuna camp in Kenya to south Sudan to two places. One is Bor, which is in the eastern corridor of Sudan, and the other one in Kapueta, which is closer to the border with Kenya. UNHCR started to bring back about 150 people, 150 Sudanese refugees, who had been in Kakuna camp for the past 20 years, some of them, a bit less, for others like a decade. And right now we are planning to start again movements at the end of January or beginning of February from Kenya, but also from Central African Republic and from the Democratic Republic of Congo,? she says.

A few months later, a repatriation operation is expected to begin for Sudanese refugees in Ethiopia.

Caux says the overall repatriation operation will be a large one. ?There are 500,000 refugees, Sudanese refugees, in neighboring countries. This will be a long repatriation operation. This will take probably three to four years in the best case. We expect to repatriate some 60,000 refugees this year.?

However, there are several factors that will affect the speed of repatriation efforts. Caux says, ?This is very connected also with the funding we will get, of course, because last year the operation was quite under-funded. And this is very dependent also on the security situation. There are still a lot of tribal conflicts in south Sudan. This is also a place that?s in transition. The political institutions have to be put in place. The economical situation is still very shaky.?

Adding to the problems is the fact that many areas and roads are laden with landmines, which still must be cleared.