The overall security situation in South Sudan remained relatively calm with the exception of a few incidents attributed to the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA).
In a positive development, UN Special Envoy for LRA-affected areas, Mr. Joachim Chissano, successfully mediated a new encounter in Ri-Kwangba in Western Equatoria State on 13-14 April between the LRA leadership and the Government of Uganda. The Cessation of Hostilities Agreement was renewed and both parties agreed to resume the stalled peace talks on 26 April in Juba. The deal also gave the LRA a deadline to assemble at Ri-kwangba within six weeks.
The UN Department of Safety and Security (UNDSS) undertook a mission to Tambura in Western Equatoria to re-assess the security situation after the security level had been raised in February due to increased activity by the LRA. As a result, the security level was reduced from 4 to 3, allowing humanitarian workers to return to the area. UNHCR staff returned to Tambura from Yambio, where they had been temporarily relocated since 15 February.
Repatriation tops the 50,000 mark
UNHCR's repatriation operation in South Sudan reached the 50,000 mark on 10 April when the last group of Sudanese refugees flew to Yambio from the Central African Republic (CAR). To date, over 55,000 refugees have been helped by UNHCR to return home. In total, more than 137,500 Sudanese refugees have returned home since the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in January 2005, including over 82,000 spontaneously. Some 280,000 Sudanese refugees remain in neighbouring countries. UNHCR hopes to repatriate 102,000 Sudanese refugees this year.
Voluntary repatriation from Ethiopia
Since UNHCR officially inaugurated the Pagak and Bambudi repatriation corridors on 10 March and with the already operational Kurmuk corridor, as well as the new airlift operation from Gambella, the total number of returns from Ethiopia assisted by UNHCR since operations started in March 2006 reached the 20,000 mark with a convoy from Fugnido on 25 April. In addition, more than 10,700 refugees have returned spontaneously from Ethiopia.
More remarkably, all the 1,488 refugees in Yarenja have gone home to Blue Nile State through the Bambudi corridor, resulting in the closure of Yarenja camp on 28 March. This is the first Ethiopian camp hosting Sudanese refugees to be closed since the signing of the CPA. The last returnees from Yarenja received magnificent welcoming ceremonies arranged by the local authorities and community. A large crowd representing the Commissioner of Roseires Locality, a representative from the Wali's Office, the Humanitarian Aid Commission (HAC)/Sudan Relief and Rehabilitation Commission (SRRC), parliamentarians from Blue Nile State, elders, women's groups and journalists from Radio Omdurman in Khartoum were present to welcome the returnees.
During the reporting period, UNHCR also launched the first air repatriation of Sudanese refugees from Ethiopia. The first flight transporting 50 refugees to Malakal, Upper Nile State, left Gambella on 14 April. The plane transported a total of 150 returnees in three rotations on that day. Between 14 and 27 April, 1,243 refugees from minority groups (such as Dinka and Shuluk) from Bonga, Dimma and Fugnido camps were able to return to different States in South Sudan, including to South Kordofan, through the air repatriation operation. The areas of return for these minority groups were extremely difficult to access by road. IOM and the Ethiopian Administration for Refugee and Returnee Affairs (ARRA) assisted with the transportation of refugees from different camps to Gambella airport and with the provision of food and medical services. Returnees received some basic items before departure and the remaining return package upon arrival in Sudan. WFP and FAO also provided returnees with three-month food rations as well as agricultural tools and seeds. In Kadugli, South Kordofan, the UN Joint Logistic Centre (UNJLC) provided non-food items and, in areas where UNHCR is not present, UNMIS RRR helped to coordinate return.
Repatriation by road from Bonga camp in Gambella also continued. Convoy number 14 from Bonga carrying 720 refugees was the largest convoy received in Blue Nile on 13 April. It arrived with one day delay due to heavy rains in Kurmuk that made movement impossible. The convoy had to spend one additional day in Kurmuk Ethiopia until the roads dried up again. With convoy number 15 from Bonga carrying 719 refugees to Kurmuk on 19 April, repatriation to Kurmuk surpassed the 10,000 mark.
In another positive development, a new TB ward and extensions to Kurmuk hospital were inaugurated on 10 April. This project was funded by UNHCR and will help to cater to the ever-increasing population in Kurmuk.
First airlift from Boma
Efforts by UNHCR in collaboration with IOM and the South Sudan Relief and Rehabilitation Commission (SSRRC) to transport some 452 spontaneous returnees from Ethiopia to their final return areas from Boma (Jonglei State) kicked off on 21 March with the first IOM-chartered flight carrying 40 returnees to Upper Nile and Central Equatoria States. These returnees had arrived in Pakok from Dimma camp on foot early in the year and were moved to Boma so that they could receive assistance from UNHCR and partners pending a solution on onward transportation to final destinations.