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ICC NOTE: Important and timely information in that as thousands of Sudanese return to their country, the article highlights the tremendous need for infrastructure support from the international community.

Sudanese refugee repatriation starts from Kenya
Sat Dec 17, 2005 6:29 AM ET

By Andrew Cawthorne

NAIROBI (Reuters) – The United Nations repatriated scores of southern Sudanese refugees from neighboring Kenya on Saturday at the start of a program offering hundreds of thousands of war exiles the chance to go home.

With a peace deal enabling the five million Sudanese displaced abroad or internally to consider going back, U.N. officials say the voluntary returns could turn into one of the biggest refugee operations the world has seen.

A first group of 147 refugees from Kakuma camp in north-western Kenya were being taken by air and road to three destinations in the southern Sudanese states of Jongley and Eastern Equatoria from Saturday morning, U.N. officials said.

Some 71,000 Sudanese refugees live at Kakuma.

“We plan to give returnees basic household goods to help them survive at home, as well as two weeks’ worth of food to last until the U.N.’s World Food program is able to distribute a larger supply to the returnees in January,” the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said in a statement.

Conflicts in the west, east and south of Africa ‘s largest nation over the last two decades sent some 700,000 refugees fleeing to neighboring countries and displaced another four million Sudanese internally.

About a quarter of a million Sudanese have already gone back under their own steam. But they are finding it tough to revive their communities in a vast region impoverished by conflict and chronically underdeveloped.

“Some refugees have gone home on their own without waiting for our assistance, but many are taking a more cautious approach,” UNHCR said. “The long-neglected area either never had sufficient services, or saw its elementary infrastructure destroyed by decades of war.”

The U.N. World Food program (WFP) hailed Saturday’s return as the start of potentially “one of the most important refugee returns in history.” WFP Kenya Country Director Tesema Negash said it was a long-term project the world must not forget about.

“But 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.”