United Nations refugees agency ( UNHCR) announced on Tuesday it would officially begin voluntary repatriation operation for southern Sudanese back to their homes next week.
In a statement, the UNHCR said it is gearing up to assist Sudanese who wish to return to their villages after a January peace agreement in southern Sudan which ended 21 years of civil war that displaced four million people within the country and made refugees of another 500,000 in neighboring countries.
"We are continuing preparations for the start of the voluntary repatriation of Sudanese refugees from neighboring countries, with the first convoy tentatively planned to leave Kakuma camp in northwestern Kenya in mid-December for Kapoeta, 180 km east of Juba, and for Bor, 200 km north of the capital of New Sudan," said the UNHCR in a statement.
Last Thursday, the UNHCR organized what it calls "go-and-see visits" for two delegations of Sudanese refugees from Kakuma camp in north-western Kenya, where over 2,000 refugees have registered for repatriation.
The two delegations visited Kapoeta and Bor to assess for themselves the situation on the ground and to share the information with their fellow refugees back in Kakuma.
"In spite of the few services available after two decades of war - poor roads, limited health care facilities and schools - many refugees have told us they still wish to go back to their homeland," said the UNHCR.
The refugee agency has called on the international organizations to focus now on rebuilding essential infrastructure in towns such as Bor, which is swelling with returnees but where people drink from the Nile because the water system was destroyed by the war.
Despite the importance of the operation, which, if successful, would bring an end to one of the world's most deadly and enduring crises, in which 2 million people are estimated to have been killed, the UNHCR said its South Sudan operation remains seriously under-funded, with only 39 million US dollars so far received out of the 76.3 million dollars budgeted for 2005.
Prior to the new deployment, UNHCR had already opened offices in the southern Sudan towns of Rumbek, Juba, Yei, Kajo Keiji, Yambio, Tambura, Malakal, and Damazine.