Returns to South Sudan top 300000 reports UN refugee agency

10 February 2009The number of Sudanese refugees returning from exile since the end of the country’s civil war topped 300,000 last weekend, marking a milestone in a repatriation operation aimed at assisting nearly 500,000 people uprooted by the conflict, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said today. The number of Sudanese refugees returning from exile since the end of the country’s civil war topped 300,000 last weekend, marking a milestone in a repatriation operation aimed at assisting nearly 500,000 people uprooted by the conflict, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said today.Southern Sudanese and UNHCR officials were on hand at the Sudanese/Ugandan border on 7 February to welcome the 300,000th returnee – 72-year-old Antazia Dulu who fled her homeland in 1991 – and a convoy of 240 returnees. UNHCR launched its repatriation programme to help Southern Sudanese return from Kenya, Uganda, and other neighbouring countries after the Sudanese Government and the southern rebel movement, the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A), signed a peace agreement to end their 22-year civil war in January 2005.The long-running north-south conflict uprooted nearly 500,000 people, making the Southern Sudanese one of Africa’s largest and longest-staying refugee populations.Since 2005, UNHCR has assisted the return of over 140,000 Sudanese refuges, while tens of thousand have gone back independently. That number includes some 43,000 Southern Sudanese who have returned from Uganda since the opening of the Nimule return corridor in August 2007.The agency works with the Southern Sudanese administration to assist the returnees, including through the provision of basic facilities such as wells, health centres and schools.