WFP today welcomed the first official voluntary repatriation by the UN refugee agency UNHCR to southern Sudan from Kakuma Camp in northeastern Kenya with the departure of some 150 refugees by road and air.
With this trip, the refugees end years in exile. This, however, is the first step by the first group.
WFP hopes that there will be many more steps by both refugees and internally displaced people within Sudan in the coming months and years -- until this becomes one of the most important refugee returns in history.
Hope for future
“This first group is a hope for the future for all Sudanese refugees and displaced,” said WFP Country Director, Tesema Negash.
“But as these 150 need international assistance to ease their return, so do the tens of thousands who remain in Kenya, as well as the internally displaced in Sudan.”
“The problems caused by 21 years of civil war are not going to disappear overnight. Bringing all the Sudanese home will take a long time and needs the international community’s support to happen. The end is at last in sight, but we will all need to work to get there,” Negash added.
“There are 71,000 Sudanese refugees in Kakuma camp and millions more displaced within Sudan or refugees in other countries. They are not going to return in the immediate future. Until they do, we need to support those who remain, as well as the 20,000 refugees of other nationalities in Kakuma camp” he said.
WFP is providing to this first group of 150 refugees a two-week ration of food that will be distributed on their arrival back in Sudan.
WFP will also assist them with a three-month returnee package of food once they are at home and registered.
In Sudan in 2006, WFP plans to continue assisting IDPs, returnees and people whose livelihoods have been eroded by conflict and/or drought in Sudan.
Despite the relative peace in southern Sudan this year, Kakuma camp to date has received 7,600 new refugees, including Sudanese seeking refuge and assistance in 2005.
So far, however, WFP’s operation for 220,000 refugees in Kenya has received no funds to allow it to continue beyond March 2006.
So contributions -- in-kind and cash -- are urgently needed to prevent suffering among Sudanese, Somali and other refugees unable to return home. There are currently 129,000 mostly Somali refugees in camps at Dadaab in Kenya.
The civil war in Sudan left an estimated four million people displaced within Sudan and another 600,000 living as refugees in neighbouring countries.
Following the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, some quarter of a million have returned to their home areas in 2005 and it is estimated 615,000 will return from the North and abroad in 2006.
On the move
Many of these people will need food and other assistance both while they are on the move and after they arrive home.
It will take some time before the poorest refugees and internally displaced will be able to support themselves so there is a continuing vital need for food and other assistance.
In November, WFP provided food assistance to the highest number of returnees to southern Sudan during 2005, with a total of 253,457 returnees receiving 5,461 metric tons of food.
But despite the growing needs, WFP has a shortfall of US$94 million or over 30 percent for its 2005 emergency operation for the people of the south, east and transitional areas of Sudan.