In 2005, several hundred thousand Sudanese people have taken the road home to southern Sudan. This movement is itself a measure of the determination of displaced Sudanese people to move forward with their lives after decades of war and displacement. This movement, however, presents enormous challenges on many fronts. Firstly, already extremely poor communities must now absorb the returnees. Secondly, local authorities must provide the tools - infrastructure, services and economic opportunities - needed to help this process. Finally, the international community must rapidly scale up, so it can effectively support returns, and build the capacity of authorities and communities to integrate returnees in a sustainable manner.
Although spontaneous returns were not encouraged by UN agencies and partners in recognition of the limits of absorptive capacity in Southern Sudan, internally displaced people (IDPs) were assisted if they chose to return voluntarily, in observance of two principles:
- the right to return in safety and dignity based on a free and informed choice;
- the right to chose the destination of return
After a consultative planning process, the operational plan to support spontaneous returns defined seven program components to international support for the return: mechanisms to monitor safety of returns, providing way stations, non-food items (NFIs), transport, assistance with registration, tracking and monitoring; and developing an information campaign for those wanting to return. Agencies set targets against each of these components for the period to end of the 2005-06 dry season (around April 06). Good progress has been made in several components up to 31 December 2005, but accelerated efforts will be needed in the first quarter 2006 to achieve these targets.
As well, priority will be given in the coming year to boosting reintegration activities. Agencies aim to support returnees to establish their economic independence as quickly as possible. In particular, accelerated efforts will be required in food aid (to cover needs until the returnees' first harvest) and in improving water supply. As well, interventions to enhance food security, create income earning opportunities, and improve access to education and health will be critical.
Coordination of Return & Reintegration
UNMIS Return Reintegration and Recovery Section (hereafter UNMIS RRR) supported the government's leading role in RRR activities, while building coordination capacity and plans with UN and NGO partners working on returns.
To maximise field capacity for this role UNMIS RRR established field offices in Abyei, Juba, Kadugli and Malakal. Juba became a sub-national office for Southern RRR activities while Khartoum continued to coordinate activities in the North and the three areas, whilst maintaining its role as National headquarters.
Co-ordination was built through the establishment of committees of varying levels:-
- At a national level, the Steering Committee for Returns was created. It is chaired by the Special Representative of the Secretary General (SRSG) and includes his two Deputies, the UNMIS Force Commander and the heads of the relevant UN bodies. This is the most senior UN policy setting body.
- The joint HAC/SRRC Technical and Policy Committees, on which key UN senior personnel sit, were formed for the determination of joint Government/UN policy.
- In Khartoum and Juba, Returns Working Groups (RWG) were established with a national and sub national focus respectively to discuss policy and operational issues relating to returns. Each RWG comprises UN agencies working on return, and several NGO representatives.
- Additionally, state-level structures exist for local coordination purposes, convened by the local office of UNMIS RRR or another designated organization, usually OCHA or UNHCR.
The 2006 UN Workplan stated that a pilot return of 10,000 Internally Displaced People (IDPs) would be completed to test the strategy and operations involved in the process. In consultation with the HAC and the SRRC it was agreed that the criteria for selecting a target group for this pilot would be ongoing insecurity in the area of displacement.
Three suitable groups were identified; IDPs from Northern Bahr El- Ghazal displaced in South Darfur, IDPs living in areas in Greater Equatoria where the LRA is active; and the Dinka Bor living in Mundri and Maridi counties, who planned to return to Bor with a large number of cattle. As the ongoing security situation where the LRA was active did not allow operations at the time, the Dinka Bor were prioritised.
The return of 34 Dinka Bor cattle camps to Jonglei State started in November and continues, with UNMIS RRR Juba fully engaged with UN agencies, NGOs, the SRRC and the State Governments of Central Equatoria and Jonglei. Four thousand vulnerable members of the community have been provided with transportation, food aid, water, sanitation, health, NFIs and protection monitoring. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) is transporting vulnerable IDPs by barge from Juba to Bor, while the men herd the cattle along the Nile to Bor, escorted by the Sudan Peoples Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A). United Nations International Children's' Fund (UNICEF) has provided water and sanitation, World Food Programme (WFP) food, IOM transportation, and at Lologo a temporary way station in Juba, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is providing shelter materials, registering returnees and providing protection monitoring. Islamic Relief is successfully running the station and ADRA the health care centre. In Bor a second temporary way station is in the advanced stages in preparation for the IDPs arrival.
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