Internally displaced Liberians start journey home; first airlift from Nigeria
The Liberian repatriation operation has expanded with the start of airlifts from Nigeria and return convoys carrying internally displaced Liberians back to their home areas.
MONROVIA, Liberia, Nov 8 (UNHCR) - Undaunted by the recent unrest in Monrovia, Liberians uprooted by 14 years of civil war continue to repatriate on today's first return convoy of internally displaced persons (IDPs) and the first airlift of refugees from Nigeria.
On Monday, 500 internally displaced Liberians left Perry Town camp in Montserrado county for Sinje transit centre in Grand Cape Mount county. They received a package containing relief items and two months' supply of food before leaving for their home areas in Grand Cape Mount county.
"We have been working over the last one year to ensure that your areas are safe for you to return home," Gyude Bryant, Chairman of Liberia's National Transitional Government, told his compatriots at the launch of the IDP repatriation programme in Perry Town camp. Six counties have now been declared safe for return.
"We are glad to return home today following years of living in camps in our own country," said Baima Sarnih, 38, who heads an eight-member family.
"No matter what the situation is back home, it is proper to return to rebuild our lives," added Demar Diazolu, a 28-year-old IDP on the inaugural convoy.
Almost half of today's returning IDPs were refugees who had returned from neighbouring countries to Liberia on their own following the Accra peace accord in August last year. Upon their return, they found their areas of origin unsafe for return, and were accommodated at IDP centres in the Monrovia area until their home areas were declared safe for return.
By April 2005, UNHCR and its partners hope to help the 261,886 IDPs living in 20 camps near the capital to go home. UNHCR has been directly involved with Liberia's internally displaced population since 2000, when fighting erupted in the western part of the country, causing thousands of Liberians to seek protection in camps for Sierra Leonean refugees.
Also on Tuesday, a first airlift of 112 refugees left Nigeria for Liberia. Some 1,000 of the 6,000 Liberian refugees in Nigeria's Oru camp have so far expressed interest in repatriating on the planned thrice-weekly flights.
Land convoys from Guinea are scheduled to start on Wednesday following a delay caused by unrest in Monrovia last week.
Since the start of UNHCR's facilitated return programme to Liberia on October 1, more than 800 Liberian refugees have returned from Sierra Leone and Ghana. Another 70,000 are estimated to have made their own way home since August last year.
"Despite the latest security incidents localised in the Monrovia area, refugees are still willing to return home and UNHCR will continue to facilitate the repatriation and reintegration of about 340,000 Liberian refugee scattered in the region," said UNHCR's Representative in Liberia, Moses Okello.
In addition to the assistance package for returnees, UNHCR and its partners are working to rehabilitate schools and health centres in the war-devastated country. The agencies are also providing farming communities with agricultural equipment and materials for rebuilding homes.
By Francesca Fontanini