Nairobi, Kenya (PANA) - UN refugee agency chief António Guterres has ended a visit to Sudan, hailing efforts towards lasting solutions for thousands of long-staying refugees in eastern Sudan.
He also raised concerns about the trafficking in vulnerable people in the region, including asylum-seekers, the UN refugee agency said in a news dispatch from Khartoum, the Sudanese capital.
"Our refugee programme in Sudan is one of the oldest in Africa, at 45 years. Since then, the government has been hosting refugees from many countries generously," Guterres told journalists in Khartoum.
Acknowledging the strain that generations of hospitality has put on the Sudanese people, he announced plans to launch an initiative aimed at helping long-staying refugees become more self-reliant through livelihood projects while also supporting the local community through development projects.
The transitional solutions initiative is supported by the government and will be jointly implemented by UNHCR, the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and the World Bank, starting with a few pilot camps in the east.
Earlier, the High Commissioner travelled to Kassala in eastern Sudan to meet the country's largest concentration of refugees, numbering more than 86,000.
Many had fled fighting over the past half century between Eritrea and Ethiopia, but the majority were born in Sudan's camps, where they share the ethnicity, language and religion of their host community.
At Shagarab I camp, Guterres met refugee women who had benefited from a micro-credit scheme funded by UNHCR.
Among them was Asha Adam, 28, who has been trained to make handicrafts and to run a small business.
With an initial loan of 150 Sudanese pounds (about US$ 56), she started a small "cupboard" shop in her parents' home, selling biscuits, tomato paste and soap bought from the local market.
"It's going well," said the Eritrean refugee, who was born and bred in the camp. "I hope to expand my business into a proper shop that sells more daily necessities like sugar and coffee. My parents are old and my two brothers have daily-wage jobs in the market, so this will help to increase the family's income."
During his Sudan visit, the High Commissioner addressed another pressing issue – the future of an estimated 700,000 southerners living in Sudan after South Sudan seceded in July last year.
Some 110,000 of them have so far been registered to return to South Sudan, but are stranded in Khartoum and other areas due to a lack of funds, transportation and security.
He listened to their problems when he visited a departure point at Mayo Mandella in south-eastern Khartoum.
Some 245 families originally from the south have been living in makeshift shelters here, some of them for more than one year.
-0- PANA DJ/VAO 15Jan2012