Efforts by the United Nations to repatriate hundreds of thousands of southern Sudanese refugees from neighbouring countries could end unless aid donors made more funds available, a senior official at the UN refugee agency said.
"Expenditures are such that if we do not get more funds we will be out of money by the end of September," said Marjon Kamara, director of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees’ (UNHCR) regional bureau for Africa, in an interview with IRIN in Nairobi. "We would have to simply terminate operations in some sites in south Sudan," she added.
UNHCR's operation in southern Sudan is intended to help an estimated 350,000 southern Sudanese refugees scattered in seven neighbouring countries return home, and assist about four million internally displaced people (IDPs) go back to their villages in the south.
The repatriation programme followed the signing in January 2005 of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement between the Sudanese government and the Sudan Liberation Movement/Army, the former rebel group that waged a two-decade-long military campaign for greater autonomy for southern Sudan.
Kamara said suspending the repatriation exercise would dash the hopes of thousands of refugees who want to go home.
"Refugees will remain in the camps. Some of them will try to go home spontaneously as some of them are doing anyway. But we would bring the whole, very hopeful exercise to a kind of close and that is why the High Commissioner [António Guterres] is sounding the alarm.
"The repatriation programme is finally the opportunity for a solution to the long-standing problem of Sudanese refugees dispersed in all the neighbouring countries. It comes when there is a desire on the part of a growing number of refugees to return. When we started this operation in 2005 there was some reluctance, but over time interest is growing and it would be a pity if we are not able to respond to the wishes of some refugees," she said.
Of US $65.9 million sought for the operation for 2006, UNHCR received nearly $30 million, most of which has now been spent. The agency requires an estimated $5.2 million a month to meet the critical needs of the operation for the last quarter of 2006.
Only 12,000 refugees had gone back to southern Sudan with UNHCR assistance since December 2005, Kamara said.
"South Sudan is going to be a very costly operation, mainly on the logistics side - there are no roads so a lot of this operation will have to be done by air," she said. The government of southern Sudan has expressed a wish to have all the refugees and IDPs back in the region by November 2007 in time for a planned census, she said.
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
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