Internally displaced Liberians start journey home; first airlift from Nigeria

News Stories, 8 November 2004

© UNHCR/F.Fontanini
Displaced Liberians beaming on the first convoy from Perry Town camp to their home in Grand Cape Mount county.

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
UNHCR Liberia

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Return to Swat Valley

Thousands of displaced Pakistanis board buses and trucks to return home, but many remain in camps for fear of being displaced again.

Thousands of families displaced by violence in north-west Pakistan's Swat Valley and surrounding areas are returning home under a government-sponsored repatriation programme. Most cited positive reports about the security situation in their home areas as well as the unbearable heat in the camps as key factors behind their decision to return. At the same time, many people are not yet ready to go back home. They worry about their safety and the lack of access to basic services and food back in Swat. Others, whose homes were destroyed during the conflict, are worried about finding accommodation. UNHCR continues to monitor people's willingness to return home while advocating for returns to take place in safety and dignity. The UN refugee agency will provide support for the transport of vulnerable people wishing to return, and continue to distribute relief items to the displaced while assessing the emergency shelter needs of returnees. More than 2 million people have been displaced since early May in north-west Pakistan. Some 260,000 found shelter in camps, but the vast majority have been staying with host families or in rented homes or school buildings.

Return to Swat Valley

Liberia: Return, Reintegration, Rehabilitation and Reconstruction

Colombia's armed conflict has forced millions of people to flee their homes, including hundreds of thousands who have sought refuge in other countries in the region.

Along the border with Colombia, Panama's Darien region is a thick and inhospitable jungle accessible only by boat. Yet many Colombians have taken refuge here after fleeing the irregular armed groups who control large parts of jungle territory on the other side of the border.

Many of the families sheltering in the Darien are from Colombia's ethnic minorities – indigenous or Afro-Colombians – who have been particularly badly hit by the conflict and forcibly displaced in large numbers. In recent years, there has also been an increase in the numbers of Colombians arriving in the capital, Panama City.

There are an estimated 12,500 Colombians of concern to UNHCR in Panama, but many prefer not to make themselves known to authorities and remain in hiding. This "hidden population" is one of the biggest challenges facing UNHCR not only in Panama but also in Ecuador and Venezuela.

Liberia: Return, Reintegration, Rehabilitation and Reconstruction

Sierra Leone: Last Return Convoy from Liberia

On July 21, 2004, the final UNHCR convoy from Liberia crossed over the Mano River bridge into Sierra Leone with 286 returnees. This convoy included the last of some 280,000 refugees returning home after Sierra Leone's brutal 10-year civil war which ended in 2000. Overall, since repatriation began in 2001, UNHCR has helped some 178,000 refugees return home, with a further 92,000 returning spontaneously, without transport assistance from UNHCR.

UNHCR provided returnees with food rations and various non-food items, including jerry cans, blankets, sleeping mats, soap and agricultural tools in order to help them establish their new lives in communities of origin. To promote integration of newly arrived returnees, UNHCR has implemented some 1,000 community empowerment projects nationwide. Programmes include the building and rehabilitation of schools, clinics, water and sanitation facilities, as well as micro-credit schemes and skills training.

UNHCR and its partners, alongside the UN country team and the government, will continue to assist the reintegration of returnees through the end of 2005.

Sierra Leone: Last Return Convoy from Liberia

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