Guterres, on a three-day mission to Africa to mark World Refugee Day on Wednesday said the repatriation to South Sudan was one of the few bright spots in a region that has seen far too much displacement.
"It was a great honour to be with you today as you returned home after so many years in exile," the High Commissioner told the refugees at UNHCR's Kangai Way Station in South Sudan. "The people of southern Sudan suffered a lot.... But now there is peace. Peace is the most important thing. All things are possible with peace."
Guterres joined the long convoy of UNHCR vehicles as it set off from Moyo in northern Uganda carrying 161 refugees, several loads of household goods and one truckload of goats. He climbed aboard one of the trucks to ride with the returnees. About two hours later, the convoy was greeted by dozens of singing and dancing Sudanese as the vehicles pulled into Kangai after the rough and dusty journey over extremely bad roads.
At Kangai, the returning refugees received a bundle of aid items, food stocks and information on landmines and HIV/AIDS prevention. Later, a few of the returnee families boarded trucks for the short journey back to their home villages.
Guterres accompanied a family of five back to their farm near Kajo Keji, a town in Sudan's Central Equatoria state. Helene Akorga and her husband fled South Sudan in 1987 and were returning with their four children. They were greeted by relatives and neighbours as they walked a final few hundred metres along a dirt path flanked by fields of maize and peanuts overlooking a lush, green valley. Despite the beautiful surroundings, life is hard for the returnees who are going home to a region devastated by more than two decades of conflict.
"Life will not be easy; you will face many difficulties," the High Commissioner told the returnees, the latest of nearly 155,000 South Sudanese who have gone home from nearby countries since December 2005.
Guterres said the international community "needs to express solidarity with South Sudan" and do all it can to ensure that the tens of thousands of refugees choosing to go home can stay home.
"You are going back home and you need to have education for your children, health care for your families, agricultural land for farming and other support," he said. "All of this is only possible if there is strong solidarity from the international community."
By Ron Redmond
in Kajo Keji, Sudan