The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, has begun screening Eritreans in Sudan to see if they are eligible for continued refugee status.
The move follows a decision by UNHCR that by the end of this year Eritreans will no longer be entitled to automatic refugee status.
"The root causes of the Eritrean refugee problem no longer exist, as fundamental and durable changes have occurred with the end of the 30-year-old war with Ethiopia in 1991 and Eritrean independence in 1993," UNHCR said in a statement earlier this year. It also said peace had returned after the two-year border war with Ethiopia which broke out in 1998.
Hundreds of thousands of Eritreans fled the country, mostly into Sudan, during the 30-year war of independence which broke out in the 1960s. But since May 2001, many have been returning home under a voluntary repatriation operation.
Eritreans still remaining in Sudan now have three options, UNHCR spokesman Jonathan Clayton told IRIN on Monday. They can either regularise their position with the Sudanese government and apply for citizenship, they can register to return to Eritrea, or they can apply for refugee status.
"To do nothing is no option," Clayton stressed.
UNHCR and the Sudanese authorities have now started the process of assessing Eritreans who claim they fear persecution if they return home. Each case will be examined by a Sudanese lawyer and a UNHCR-appointed lawyer, and there is one right of appeal if the decision goes against the individual.
The voluntary repatriations are currently on hold because of the rainy season, but are due to resume next month, Clayton added. To date, over 50,000 Eritreans have repatriated voluntarily since May 2001.
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This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions