DEVELOPMENT REPORT - Refugees in Africa

By Caty Weaver

This is Steve Ember with the VOA Special English DEVELOPMENT REPORT.

Last Tuesday, the United Nations refugee agency began to return refugees home to Eritrea from camps in Sudan. Both the Eritrean and Sudanese governments are cooperating in the effort. Eritrea, Sudan and the UN refugee agency are providing trucks to take the refugees home to Eritrea.

About ninety-thousand refugees fled Eritrea, beginning in May. They fled to escape re-newed fighting in the border war between Eritrea and Ethiopia. One-hundred-sixty-thousand other Eritrean refugees have been in Sudan since the Eritrean war of liberation. It ended nine years ago.

The UN refugee agency had planned to return those refugees in May. But the fighting in Eritrea forced UN officials to postpone the action. Now, the refugee agency plans to send the newer refugees home first and then return those who have been in Sudan for years.

The Eritrean government says the refugee repatriation will be completed in one month. However, the rainy season in the area has begun. The UN refugee agency says this may cause delays. The rainy season lasts through October.

The UN agency also reports extreme difficulty in getting humanitarian aid to refugees in Congo-Brazzaville. As many as sixty-five-thousand people fled to that country to escape the fighting in Congo-Kinshasa. Agency officials say the refugees are in villages across a seven-hundred kilometer area. The area is along the Congo and Ubangui rivers. This area forms the border between Congo-Kinshasa and Congo-Brazzaville.

A UN spokesman says the only way to transport aid to the villages is by travelling on the rivers. But, he says this is very dangerous. He says gunfire has been reported from the Congo-Kinshasa side of the rivers. He also says UN workers face the risk of kidnappings. The UN refugee agency is meeting with officials from Congo-Brazzaville to discuss how to reduce these dangers.

The spokesman says the agency is also concerned about the estimated twenty-thousand refugees in the town of Njoundou. He says a UN team visited there earlier this month. The medical workers reported that about five-thousand refugees were sick. Their diseases included serious infections that could spread to other people.

This VOA Special English DEVELOPMENT REPORT was written by Caty Weaver. This is Steve Ember.

Voice of America Special English