June 5th, 2007 08:33 EST
UN wraps up repatriation of Southern Sudanese from DR Congo
The United Nations refugee agency has wrapped up its repatriation of southern Sudanese from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), ending a yearlong effort that saw the return of 8,000 people.
Senior government officials who joined the welcome ceremony for the refugees, including a number who had been in exile for 17 years, hailed “the effort returnees will make in rebuilding their country,” Jennifer Pagonis, a spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), told a press briefing in Geneva.
The 2005 peace accord ending the north-south civil war in Sudan – separate from the fighting in the country’s Darfur region – paved the way for the repatriation effort, which has seen the return of more than 8,000 Sudanese refugees from a string of refugee camps in the DRC’s north-west.
The DRC becomes the second country – after the Central African Republic which wrapped up its repatriation to south Sudan in April – to complete the process.
Launched in June 2006, the DRC operation ended Saturday when the last of 10 flights chartered to transport some 470 refugees from Dungu landed in Yambio in western Equatoria Province of south Sudan.
In Yambio, UNHCR has supported the construction of eight water boreholes and sanitation blocks for area schools. “We have also constructed and equipped a maternity clinic, repaired and equipped six primary health care centers and are now building three more schools,” said Ms. Pagonis.
In a related development, a meeting bringing together the Governments of Sudan and Kenya as well as UNHCR held in Khartoum last Friday agreed to increase the pace of repatriation of Sudanese refugees living in northern Kenya’s Kakuma camp. There are 45,000 Sudanese refugees there, down from 70,000 in December 2005.
Since the start of voluntary repatriation to South Sudan, some 145,000 Sudanese refugees have returned home, more than 63,000 of them with UNHCR assistance, according to the agency.