Addis Ababa- Ethiopia (PANA) -- The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, said Friday it urgently needed additional donor support to avoid drastically curtailing its operations in Southern Sudan.
The South Sudan repatriation operation is one of the few bright spots in a strife-torn region struggling to cope with enormous suffering and displacements in Darfur, western Sudan, Chad, and the Central African Republic.
According to the UN agency, the funding shortfall could mean suspending, postponing, reducing or cancelling some South Sudan programmes by the end of this month.
The operation is aimed at helping some of the 350,000 Sudanese refugees still in neighbouring countries to go home, and providing assistance to an estimated four million internally displaced persons (IDPs).
The UNHCR has been repatriating South Sudanese refugees from Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, DR Congo and Central African Republic.
Besides those repatriated by the UN agency, an estimated 100,000 refugees from neighbouring countries have returned to South Sudan on their own.
9 million required for the operation for 2006, UNHCR said it had received nearly US$30 million and spent about US$22 million by the end of July 2006.
"The remainder is now nearly depleted and only partially covers costs for August and September – estimated at US$15.
8 million," it said in a statement.
To meet the most critical needs for the last quarter of the year, UNHCR requires an estimated US$5.
2 million a month.
Since December 2005, the UN agency has helped over 12,000 Sudanese refugees to return home from neighbouring countries and with the approaching end of the rainy season, thousands more are expected to return by the end of the year.
Together with other agencies, UNHCR also assisted 12,000 internally displaced Dinka Bor people to return home, along with their 1.
5 million head of cattle.
The signing of a Comprehensive Peace Agreement in January 2005 by the Sudanese government and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) ended 21 years of war in the south and paved the way for the return of millions of IDPs and refugees in surrounding countries.
But the conflict has left South Sudan in ruins, with returnees facing hardships.
UNHCR said it was working with partners to ensure their return was sustainable, but unless additional contributions were received soon, it would have to take measures to avoid overspending.
In addition to severe curbs on its programmes, the agency fears it may also have to close several offices and reduce staff in the region.
The UNHCR has a network of three sub-offices and nine smaller field offices with 175 staff in the area.
"We have dedicated available resources to improving conditions in targeted return areas, which also contributes to the United Nations' overall collaborative endeavours to stabilise Southern Sudan," said UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Antَnio Guterres.
"It is crucial that this effort continues for the people of Southern Sudan who have made the brave choice to return home and rebuild their lives," he added.