UN refugee agency says South Sudan repatriation operation threatened by funding gap

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The funding shortfall could mean suspending, postponing, reducing or cancelling some South Sudan programmes by the end of this month, the agency warned. Long-term, the operation is aimed at helping some of the 350,000 Sudanese refugees still in neighbouring countries to go home, and at providing assistance in Sudan to some of the estimated 4 million internally displaced.Of $65.9 million sought for the operation for 2006, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has received nearly $30 million and had spent some $22 million of that by the end of July. The remainder is now nearly depleted and only partially covers costs for August and September – estimated at $15.8 million. And to meet the most critical needs for the last quarter of the year, UNHCR requires an estimated $5.2 million a month.Unless additional contributions are received soon, the agency will have to take measures to avoid overspending. In addition to severe curbs on its programmes, it may also have to close several offices and reduce staff in the region. At present, UNHCR has a network of three sub-offices and nine smaller field offices. It has 175 staff in the area.High Commissioner António Guterres stressed the “urgency of additional support to meet crucial needs” until the end of the year.“We have dedicated available resources to improving conditions in targeted return areas, which also contributes to the United Nations’ overall collaborative endeavours to stabilize Southern Sudan,” Mr. Guterres said of UNHCR’s operation. “It is crucial that this effort continue for the people of Southern Sudan who have made the brave choice to return home and rebuild their lives.”Since December 2005, UNHCR has helped over 12,000 Sudanese refugees to go home from neighbouring countries. With the approaching end of the rainy season, thousands more are expected to return by the end of the year with the agency’s help. Together with other agencies, UNHCR also assisted 12,000 internally displaced Dinka Bor people return home, along with their 1.5 million head of cattle.The signing of a Comprehensive Peace Agreement in January 2005 ended 21 years of war in the south and paved the way for the return of millions of internally displaced people and refugees in surrounding countries. The South Sudan repatriation operation is viewed as one of the few bright spots in a strife-torn region struggling to cope with enormous suffering and displacement – in Darfur, Chad, the Central African Republic and elsewhere.

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