Church Leaders Prepare for Sudanese Refugee Repatriation

Church leaders in Sudan said they are preparing to receive the hundreds of thousands of refugees that are expected to return home following the historic signing of the peace accord last Sunday.

“They don’t have homes. They don’t have food. Our challenge is how we can resettle them,” Archbishop Joseph Marona of the Episcopal Church of Sudan told Ecumenical News International in Nairobi. “These are great challenges. We will need huge resources.”

Since the war erupted in 1983 between mostly Christian rebels in the South and the Muslim Khartoum government in the North, some 2 million Sudanese died – mostly of famine and drought. Several millions were left homeless and were forced out of their land; many lived as refugees their whole lives.

The retired Roman Catholic Bishop Paride Taban of Torit diocese told ENI that the refugees began returning home even before the signing of the January 9th peace accord. “We find the roads full of refugees returning without being told to go home.”

On Tuesday, Sudan’s foreign ministry said it finalized agreements with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees for the return and repatriation of some 500,000 southern Sudanese refugees from neighboring countries within six months.

The voluntary repatriations will take place from Ethiopia, Uganda, Kenya, Central African Republic and Zaire, while another 30 000 refugees are to be repatriated from Europe, the United States, Canada and Australia, according to the AP.

The UNHCR estimates the number of Southern Sudanese refugees around the world to be at one million. Several millions more have been internally displaced.

The Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army estimated the cost to repatriate the refugees at $1 billion a year for six years. The UNHCR said it will dedicate at least $100 million for the cause, while the European Union and the United States pledged $526 million and $200 million respectively.

The All Africa Conference of Churches also set aside $50,000 from its 2005-2006 budget to support the rebuilding of Sudanese civil society, according to ENI.

“The AACC is committed to ensure the civil society is educated to give a practical interpretation of the peace signed,” said Mawudor, the finance and administration director for the AACC.

The World Council of Church (WCC), of which the AACC takes part, has also pledged $100,000 to support the reestablishment of Sudan.