Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Uganda/Sudan: Hoping for peace, afraid of war - the dilemmas of repatriation and belonging on the borders of Uganda and South Sudan

Source: United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)

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This paper is about the reality of repatriation for Sudanese refugees in a context of political upheaval, a fluctuating security situation and a demanding economic environment. After decades in exile, almost a quarter of a million officially registered refugees in Uganda and similar numbers of unregistered refugees are considering the prospect of returning to Sudan. And many have already done so. Based on interviews conducted with refugees and returnees in northern Uganda and South Sudan, this paper is about the lives of individual Sudanese people who are either still living in Uganda and might identify themselves as refugees, migrants, traders or a little bit of all three, or have returned to South Sudan after decades in exile.

Common throughout, and driving the process, is a strong desire to restore the roots, status and belonging hat have been lost through exile. This group of Sudanese people have spent years or even decades in a protracted situation in which, until recently, all three durable were elusive for the majority. Despite the government of Uganda's generosity in giving considerable land to refugees, local integration has been impeded by the fact that refugee status and assistance has been dependent on living in settlements characterised by lack of freedom of movement, at least officially; resettlement numbers have been relatively low; and repatriation only became a possibility with the signing of a peace deal between the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) and the government of Sudan in 2005.

At the same time, it should be noted that many refugees in fact opted out of the settlement structure and have effectively created their own "durable solution" through a combination of economic and social integration within the Ugandan population, and ongoing movement in and out of Sudan, (what Van Hear refers to as "transnationalism".) Yet in the absence of stability in Sudan or of the prospect of obtaining official Ugandan citizenship, legally their status remained vulnerable.

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