The UN refugees agency UNHCR began Saturday the voluntary repatriation of more than half a million Sudanese refugees from Kenya, marking the end of two decades of exile for many of them.
A first group of 150 refugees among the 72,000 living in north- western Kenya's Kakuma refugee camp returned home Saturday under the first organized voluntary repatriation, said Emmanuel Nyabera, spokesman for UNHCR Kenya Office.
"We have began official repatriation today and more than 150 Sudanese have been flown back home. This is a small but symbolic number of refugees who want to go back to south Sudan," Nyabera said by telephone from Kakuma refugee camp.
"They traveled from northern Kenya by air and road to their homes in Jonglei state and Eastern Equatoria province," he added.
With their possessions having already been transported by cargo plane on Friday, one group of refugees boarded two passenger planes going from Kakuma to Bor in south Sudan, Nyabera said.
A convoy of buses and trucks transported another group of refugees and their possessions to Nadapal on the border, where the returnees will be welcomed home by south Sudanese authorities.
Shortly after the ceremony, the convoy was split into two heading for the towns of Kapoeta and Chukudum, both in Eastern Equatoria.
UNHCR said it would provide the returnees with basic household goods to help them survive at home, as well as two weeks' supply of food to last until the UN World Food Program (WFP) makes a planned distribution in early January.
The other countries hosting large numbers of refugees from south Sudan are Uganda with 204,400, Ethiopia with 90,500, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) with 69,400, and Central African Republic with 36,000 and Egypt with 30,324.
Sudan's civil war in the south came to an end in January with the signing of peace accords between the government and rebels.
More than half a million refugees fled to neighboring countries during the civil war, while some four million people are displaced within Sudan, according to the UNHCR.