The United Nations refugee agency said today it is searching for long-term solutions for the tens of thousands of Eritreans who have crossed into eastern Sudan because of deteriorating political and human rights conditions in their homeland, including some who fled decades ago.
About 130,000 Eritreans live in 12 refugee camps in Sudan, as well as in nearby urban and rural areas, and scores more are crossing into the country every week, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported. Many are young men trying to avoid military service, but an increasing number are women and children.
The majority of these asylum-seekers have lived in Sudan for years, seeking sanctuary from recurring conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea. But some 22,000 have still crossed since late 2003, long after the two countries signed a peace treaty in 2000 ending hostilities and an estimated 98,000 Eritreans returned home under a UNHCR voluntary repatriation programme.
Most of the Eritreans are concentrated in the states of Kassala, Gedaref, Gezira, Sennar and Red Sea.
UNHCR said repatriation is no longer a viable option for many of the Eritreans, especially those that have lived in Sudan for decades, and the agency is holding discussions with Sudanese authorities about possible local integration or resettlement to a third country.
The agency stressed that its long-term aim is to make the asylum-seekers more self-reliant and less dependent on aid and the support of the local Sudanese communities, which have long shared their own scarce resources.
UNHCR has identified better health facilities and greater access to safe drinking water and education as the priority needs of the long-term Eritrean refugees, noting that many of the more recent arrivals are still hopeful of returning to their homeland.