Sudan, U.N. Plan To Send 800,000 Refugees Home Soon
KHARTOUM, Sudan (AP) _ Hundreds of thousand of refugees - Eritreans, Ethiopians, Chadians and Ugandans - are packing to go home after decades as unwanted guests in this impoverished African state.
Their imminent departure stems from new-found peace in Sudan’s neighboring states, ironically while civil war rages for a ninth year in Sudan itself.
The government and the United Nations are looking to the West to provide $100 million to finance truck transportation for more than 800,000 refugees and to help them resettle at home.
″The circumstances are now suitable for the repatriation of large numbers of refugees, if not all of them,″ said Abdul-Rahman Sir el-Khatim, Sudan’s minister of state for refugees. ″Cost is the most serious problem, but we hope we will be able to raise the money from the Western donors.″
In addition to the civil war, Sudan, Africa’s largest country, has been struggling through almost a decade of drought and famine.
But that hasn’t saved it from large numbers of people leaving similarly afflicted neighboring states who cross frontiers seeking international help denied them if they stay home.
The largest group of refugees are the 500,000 Eritreans, followed by 300,000 Ethiopians. All fled to Sudan to escape a nearly 30-year civil war that ended last year with provisional independence for the northern Ethiopian province of Eritrea.
Many refugees came as early as 1967 to escape bombing; others followed in the mid-1980s, fleeing famine, drought and continued fighting.
Most of these people live in eastern Sudan in tukuls, round mud-and-stick huts with thatched roofs. A few have migrated inland to central Sudan and the capital, Khartoum.
The United Nations cares for roughly half. The rest integrated themselves into Sudanese society, and many locals resent them for taking scarce jobs.
Conditions in Ethiopia have generally stabilized since May, when President Mengistu Haile Mariam was overthrown and Eritrea was allowed to secede.
John Horekens, the representative in Khartoum for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, expects the first 250,000 Eritreans to begin leaving this month. But there could be complications because Eritrean officials are dissatisfied with arrangements for the repatriation.
″The Eritreans feel UNHCR is not putting enough emphasis on infrastructure for the returning refugees,″ Horekens said. ″But it’s not our job to reconstruct Eritrea.″
Anyway, he said, ″Some refugees are not in a hurry to go back. They either have set up nice houses or they like getting aid in the settlements. They also want to see what happens to those who go first.″
The third-largest group of refugees under U.N. care is 20,000 Chadians in western Sudan.
They are remnants of hundreds of thousands of Chadians once in Sudan because of the 1984-85 drought and fighting at home. The others went home in the late 1980s, and Horekens expects the rest to be repatriated by June.
Up to 5,000 Ugandans are stragglers from 250,000 who came during mid-1980s civil unrest in Uganda.