Sudan + 1 more

Some 120,000 Sudanese refugees set to return to Eastern Equatoria

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KAMPALA, Uganda, May 16 (UNHCR) - The UN refugee agency has reached an agreement with Sudan and Uganda to begin the repatriation of some 120,000 refugees to south Sudan's Eastern Equatoria state. The programme is set to start in August.

A tripartite commission, gathering representatives of UNHCR and the governments of Sudan and Uganda, also agreed at a May 7-9 meeting in Kampala to take concrete steps to speed up the existing repatriation programme from Uganda, which is currently home to an estimated 170,000 Sudanese refugees.

"I am glad we managed to find solutions to fasten the pace of repatriation from Uganda. We should be able to help people to go home as fast as they want. Sudan needs its people now and refugees want to have a leading role in the reconstruction of their country," said Stefano Severe, UNHCR representative in Uganda. The measures include boosting logistics capacity with new buses, trucks and ferries.

After the three-day meeting of the commission, the head of the South Sudan Relief and Rehabilitation Commission, Simon Kun Pouch, travelled to the Kiryandongo refugee camp in north-west Uganda to encourage refugees to return home and help rebuild the country.

"Eastern Equatoria is now ready to welcome you back and we need you home to develop your village, your town, your region, your Sudan," Pouch told some 400 fellow Sudanese at the camp. About 120,000 of the Sudanese refugees in Uganda originate from the Magwi and Torit districts of Eastern Equatoria.

Uganda follows a liberal policy towards refugees, allowing them to own a plot of land for cultivation and to work and have freedom of movement. Many of the Sudanese have been living in the country for more than 20 years. The signing of a peace treaty in January 2005 between the Sudanese government and the rebel Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army (SPLA) paved the way for the return from neighbouring countries of hundreds of thousands of refugees. The pace of repatriation has been picking up in recent months.

Meanwhile, a first group of 118 Sudanese refugees were repatriated from the Adjumani refugee settlement in northern Uganda to Kajo Keji in Central Equatoria state. Approximately 5,000 more refugees have registered to return home from Adjumani.

UNHCR has helped some 13,000 Sudanese refugees return home from Uganda since May 2006, including over 7,200 since March this year. More than 140,000 Sudanese have repatriated from neighbouring countries.

By Roberta Russo in Kampala, Uganda