Sudanese refugees who fled fighting in Darfur are returning back home from neighbouring Central Africa Republic (CAR) where they have lived for the last 10 years.
Conflict in Darfur began in 2003 when mainly non-Arab tribes took up arms against Sudan’s Arab-led government. Up to 300,000 people were killed and millions have been displaced.
About 3,500 Darfuris fled into CAR in 2007.
I say big thank you to all Central Africans, thank you very much I have stayed in their country for 10 years without having any worries. I thank them.
Now, 1,500 of them have been taken back home as part of a UNHCR voluntary repatriation exercise that started on December 12 last year.
Ismael Mahamat, a student, was among the last group of 45 to take a flight home.
“I thank the government and the people of Central Africa for hosting the Sudanese refugees,” he said.
UNHCR says the security situation in Darfur has improved following a disarmament process and an ease in fighting after Sudan announced short-term truces in Blue Nile and Kordofan regions.
Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir also extended a ceasefire ahead of a decision in October by the United States to lift long-standing trade sanctions against his country.
Bashir is wanted by the International Criminal Court on charges of orchestrating genocide in Darfur.
“I say big thank you to all Central Africans, thank you very much I have stayed in their country for 10 years without having any worries. I thank them,” said Aroun Hamat, a trader returning to Darfur.
“For UNHCR, voluntary repatriation is a sustainable, long-term solution. It is not the UNHCR that is forcing them to leave, they themselves came to us saying they wanted to leave and for those that are staying, we are here to listen as there are shepherds, farmers and traders amongst them,” said Lydia Gebrekristos, UNHCR head of office in Bambari.
According to UN estimates, there are 650,000 Sudanese refugees living in Chad and South Sudan.
While the security situation in Darfur is said to have improved, sporadic fighting remains a concern as there is no conclusive political agreement between armed groups.