UNHCR Sudan Operations: Sudan situation update 69, 04 Feb 2007
While the security around Juba town on the western bank of the Nile remained stable, the situation on the eastern bank of the Nile on the Juba - Torit road and the Juba - Nimule road was tense. A series of attacks were carried out in Magwi (Eastern Equatoria) on 2 January - four people were killed and another four were seriously injured when the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) ambushed a tipper lorry carrying more than 50 passengers to Nimule. On 10 January, a WFP driver was killed and three passengers were wounded when their car was attacked by unknown gunmen who opened fire on the vehicle on the Juba - Torit road. Another attack was carried out in Magwi on 13 January, where food stuff was looted and people abducted. Magwi is a major potential area of return for more than 20,000 Sudanese refugees mainly from Uganda. Furthermore, on 26 January a UNMIS Protection Force escorting de-miners (route openers) from the Mine Action Group (MAG) were ambushed by an unknown armed group near Opari, 20 kilometres from Magwi on the Pageri - Magwi road. The ambush resulted in one dead and two seriously injured. It also led to the cancellation of a planned mission to Magwi on 29 January by a team of UNHCR staff from Juba and Yei.
The security situation in Malakal town (Upper Nile) has improved, with very few cases of robbery in isolated areas at night. The joint patrolling teams comprised of UN soldiers, Joint Integrated Units (JIU) and local police are regularly conducting patrolling around the town, hunting for criminals and looters. The majority of the population of Malakal who had fled for insecurity have returned to their homes. UN and NGO international staff have returned and operations have resumed in many areas. Malakal town continues to be in UN Security Phase III.
Voluntary repatriation from Ethiopia
The reporting period saw the successful repatriation of Sudanese refugees from Bonga and Sherkole camps (Ethiopia) to Blue Nile State. In the period 16 - 27 December 2006, four convoys brought lack a total of 2,080 refugees who returned to their areas of origin in Chali El Fiel, Puda Om, Nyile and Belatuma Bomas. During 2006, UNHCR repatriated a total of 4,625 refugees from Ethiopia to Blue Nile State.
From 24 to 27 January, the Commissioner of the SSRRC (South Sudan Relief and Rehabilitation Commission), Mr. Simon Kun Pouch, and UNHCR staff from South Sudan and Khartoum attended a cross-border meeting in Gambella, Ethiopia. The meeting resulted in a proposal to open the Pagak corridor by 28 February and initiate air repatriation for returnees to destinations that cannot be reached by road along the lines of the air repatriation already taking place from Kakuma camp (Kenya) to South Sudan. The proposal requires further discussion before final approval. Meetings with refugee representatives were also held in Gambella from which it became clear that the refugees in Ethiopia are desperate to come home and will continue walking and returning home spontaneously if organized repatriation does not resume soon.
First meeting of the Tripartite Commission in Addis Ababa
In accordance with the Tripartite Agreement for the repatriation of Sudanese refugees signed between the Government of Sudan, Government of Ethiopia and UNHCR on 27 February 2006, the Administration of Refugee and Returnee Affairs (ARRA), Government of Ethiopia, called for and organized the first meeting of the Tripartite Commission in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on 1-2 February. The Ethiopian delegation was led by Ato Ayalew Aweke, Acting Deputy Director, ARRA, and the Sudanese delegation by Dr. Mohamed Ahmed M. Alaghbash, Commissioner for Refugees. The UNHCR delegation was led by Mr. Ilunga Ngandu, Regional Liaison Representative, and included Mr. Chrysantus Ache, UNHCR Representative for Sudan, who also made opening remarks. The Commission discussed major policy matters, protection concerns and operational issues related to the voluntary repatriation and reintegration of Sudanese refugees from Ethiopia. The Commission also agreed on repatriation priorities and a plan of action for 2007.
Spontaneous returnees from Ethiopia in Boma
UNHCR fielded a mission to Boma in Jonglei State on 13 January after receiving information from UNHCR Ethiopia of the spontaneous departure of refugees from Dimma camp. On arrival in Boma, UNHCR staff made radio contact with the returnees, who had not yet arrived in Boma but were in Pakok after crossing the border. The group of 980 returnees (including 180 women) was mostly composed of male students, who said that they had departed Dimma in protest to the reduction of educational allowances for the 2006-2007 academic year and also because they did not want to wait any longer to return home. The returnees arrived at Pakok after travelling on foot for 11 hours from Dimma. Many of them were tired and sick and said that they were in need of medical assistance, food and shelter.
UNHCR fielded three subsequent missions to Pakok and Boma in order to assess and assist these returnees, one of which was an inter-agency mission in cooperation with WFP and OCHA. As a result of the missions, UNHCR, with the support of SSRRC, has established a temporary reception facility in Boma, which is far more accessible than Pakok and better served in terms of essential services.
The majority of the group has now moved from Pakok to Boma in order to receive assistance from UNHCR and partners. Food and non-food items have been distributed in Boma and UNHCR and SSRRC are in the process of registering the returnees. Based on initial registration information, most of the returnees appear to be from Upper Nile and northern parts of Jonglei. Once final destinations are established, UNHCR will formulate a plan to assist the returnees with onward travel from Boma, which is likely to present significant logistical challenges.