Senior UN refugee official visits Sudan in anticipation of 600000 returns

The Assistant United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is in Sudan holding talks on the potential return of some 600,000 refugees to the country’s south if a peace accord is reached between the Government and rebels ending their 21-year civil war. Kamel Morjane discussed the anticipated repatriation with Sudanese Government ministers Monday in Khartoum, assuring them that the agency “is ready to help the refugees go home when the time is right,” spokesperson Jennifer Pagonis said. Mr. Morjane plans to travel Wednesday to southern Sudan to meet officials of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) as well as personnel from UN agencies and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) working in the area. “He wants to see for himself how conditions are in the south, and what is needed to allow the south Sudanese refugees to go home in safety and dignity, and build a permanent new life there,” Ms. Pagonis told a press briefing in Geneva. The agency is reopening offices in the south following a 13-year absence, and plans are underway to expand UNHCR’s presence to assist the returning refugees after a comprehensive peace agreement is signed. Hundreds of thousands of Sudanese refugees are living in Uganda while tens of thousands more fled to Ethiopia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Kenya. In addition, more than three million people from southern Sudan are also displaced within the country. Yesterday, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan warned that any peace accord in southern Sudan will be fragile unless the crisis in the Darfur region in the country’s west is also resolved. Roughly a million people have been displaced in Darfur – while another 150,000 have crossed the border into Chad – since early last year when fighting broke out between rebels and the Government. Militias backed by the Government have alsoperpetrated serious human rights abuses. Meanwhile, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported it has found 521 suspected cases of measles in a north Darfur camp for internally displaced people (IDPs). WHO is conducting a mass anti-measles vaccination campaign across Darfur, and so far it has reached more than 500,000 people, about two-thirds of its target. Officials are being hampered by the inaccessibility of some remote areas of the region.

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