Khartoum- Sudan (PANA) -- Tedesti, 35, left her home village in Eritrea 25 years ago in the heat of heavy fighting between the Ethiopian army and the Eritrean rebels fighting for independence.
She remembers to have crossed into Sudan with nearly all the inhabitants of her village, where she never returned simply because all her kin and kith came with her to Sudan.
Now asked by UNHCR to register for voluntary repatriation, Tedesti feels at a loss as she has only a faint image of her home village in Eritrea.
Tedesti is not even sure whether she will manage to survive back home in the way she does in Khartoum where the diplomatic family employing her as house maid gives her enough to support her children and aging parents.
Kidani, Burhan, Michael, Ibrahim, Salih and Omar, all living and working in Khartoum, expressed similar feelings.
They do not know what to do as the 31 December deadline set by the UNCHR for the cessation of their refugee status approaches alarmingly fast.
Last May, the UNHCR announced it was ending the refugee status for all Eritreans everywhere by 31 December, arguing it sees no reason for Eritreans to continue to live as refugees after their independence war and that over border dispute with Ethiopia.
The UNHCR "refugee status cessation clause" leaves the Eritrean refugees with three options: to repatriate, apply for and prove eligible for political asylum or obtain a residence permit from the Sudanese ministry of the interior.
The clause also means by 1 January 2003, neither UNHCR nor any other UN agency will be responsible to provide food, shelter, health or education for Eritrean refugees.
According to UNHCR statistics, about 90,000 Eritrean refugees live in live in mud or straw huts in camps around Kasala and New Halfa in Eastern Sudan which the agency calls camp-based refugees.
The camps have schools, medical centres and drinking water facilities.
The UNCHR says about 350,000 urban-based refugees living in Sudanese towns are entitled to food and cash aid until they find employment.
To implement the refugee status cessation clause, legal committees from the UNHCR and the Sudan government have been screening refugees desiring political asylum in Sudan since 1 August.
So far, 5,244 have applied for asylum, which is given if an applicant can prove he could be persecuted for political, religious or ethnic reasons upon return.
Response to voluntary repatriation has been equally poor because barely 4,109 family heads (approximately 21,000 people) had registered in that category by 17 October 2002.
But UNHCR officials are hopeful this trend could be reversed as the deadline approaches.
The closure of the Sudan-Eritrea border after Sudan accused its Eastern neighbour of fighting alongside the rebels of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) seeking to topple the government in Khartoum delays the refugee registration process.
And most refugees hope the border closure would be protracted to prevent their transfer.
The UNHCR gives each Eritrean refugee wishing to return home a cash allowance of 300 Eritrean Nakfa (roughly 23 US dollars), while the WFP provides food aid enough to sustain the returnee for a one year, as well as improved seeds and farming tools.
The WFP says it is willing to give the refugees food for another year when they are back home while the UNHCR pledges them more financial support when they return.
In interviews with PANA, most of the refugees expressed the desire for residence permit in Sudan.
Some of them, like Michael, who owns a fleet of transport trucks, expressed doubts about getting such lucrative businesses back home.
But the major problem facing this category is in order to obtain a residence permit from Sudan, one needs to present a valid (Eritrean) passport, which their embassy in Khartoum rarely issues them.
Young Eritrean refugees express fears to return home before get drafted in the army as Eritrea applies compulsory military service for all men and women) between 18-40 years.
However, the belligerent conditions on the Ethio-Eritrea border and the unwillingness of Eritreans to repatriate do not seem to deter the UNCHR from continuing with its plan for registration and repatriation.
"The 31 December deadline will be kept.
Whatever the conditions, the procedure will continue,"' UNHCR official here, Khalid Dahab reaffirms.
But observers in Khartoum and Eastern Sudan doubt a complete end to the presence of Eritrean refugees in Sudan.
"Even at this moment you are talking to me there are new Eritrean refugees crossing into Sudan," Abdulwahhab Salih, a journalist based in Kasala, told PANA.
"Eritreans feel at home in Sudan, the East in particular.
The environment is similar to theirs and the people are of the same racial origins, Salih explains.
Salih describes the repatriation process as 'cyclic'.
"The refugees are taken across the border for cash and food allowances and when they do collect them, they just cross back into Sudan," he said.