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High-ranking Liberian delegation impressed by skills of refugees in Ghana

News Stories, 18 July 2006

© UNHCR/N.Jehu-Hoyah
Liberian Minister of Internal Affairs Ambulai Johnson addresses refugees at the Buduburam settlement in Ghana.

ACCRA, Ghana, July 18 (UNHCR) Members of a high-level Liberian government delegation have come away from a visit to Ghana saying they were impressed by the level and variety of skills shown by Liberian refugees and hoped they could be used to help rebuild their homeland.

The five-member delegation, led by Minister of Internal Affairs Ambulai Johnson, wrapped up a four-day trip on Sunday after touring two refugee settlements and meeting Ghanaian government officials, diplomats and representatives of UNHCR and other agencies.

The visit the first of its kind since the launch of a UNHCR voluntary repatriation programme in October 2004 was aimed at furthering the new Liberian government's commitment to bringing back the tens of thousands of refugees who fled to other countries to escape civil war in Liberia during the 1990s. There are an estimated 38,000 Liberian refugees in the sprawling Buduburam settlement near Accra and the Krisan settlement in south-west Ghana.

Accompanied by UNHCR representatives, the delegates held open meetings with members of the two refugee communities in the hope of persuading undecided Liberians to return home and contribute to national reconstruction. They said they were impressed by the wide range of skills and expertise many of the refugees had picked up.

The main concerns of the refugees, some of whom had not been home in 16 years, included shelter and employment opportunities. Johnson told refugees in Buduburam about democratic progress in Liberia, including the election last year of President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, adding that lack of teachers, health-care workers and construction crews was a great opportunity for the skilled refugees.

"If Her Excellency the president is making an appeal for you to come back home, she is doing it against the background that when you return, there are measures in place to absorb you. Obviously, if there isn't, you'll be idle and there'll be trouble and she doesn't want trouble," the minister said last Thursday.

Delegation member Wheatonia Dixon Barnes, executive director of the Liberian Refugee Repatriation and Resettlement Commission, urged the refugees to return home and take advantage of UNHCR-funded micro-credit schemes for cooperatives and the National Investment Commission's loan scheme, which targets small- and medium-scale enterprises. She highlighted opportunities for youth and women, saying: "These are exciting times in Liberia for women."

Aida Haile Mariam, the UNHCR representative in Ghana, also called on the refugees to return. "The international community is focusing its attention on your home country which means that assistance in asylum will only keep dwindling," she said, adding: "Your skills are critically needed there and you could resume normal lives."

Johnson also told the refugees about government plans to cultivate 120,000 acres of land over a five-year period. "We are happy to receive this news and will rally ourselves to return to the interior of Liberia to farm and let Liberia be able to feed herself again," said Varney B. Sambolla, a refugee in Buduburam who returned home in April on a UNHCR-organised fact finding mission.

Rebuilding Liberia will take time, but progress has been made in areas such as disarmament, security and human rights. Some 3,500 Liberian refugees have returned home from Ghana since October 2004.

UNHCR gives returning Liberian refugees an assistance package that includes food and relief items, counselling and the opportunity to acquire new skills. The voluntary repatriation operation is scheduled to end in June 2007.

By Needa Jehu-Hoyah in Accra, Ghana




UNHCR country pages

New flows of Ivorian refugees into Liberia

As of late March, more than 100,000 Ivorian refugees had crossed into eastern Liberia since lingering political tension from a disputed presidential election in neighbouring Côte d' Ivoire erupted into violence in February. Most have gone to Liberia's Nimba County, but in a sign that the fighting has shifted, some 6,000 Ivorians recently fled across the border into Liberia's Grand Gedeh County. Most of the new arrivals have settled in remote villages - some inaccessible by car. The UN refugee agency sent a mission to assess the needs of the refugees in the region.

Photographer Glenna Gordon photographed new arrivals near Zwedru in south-eastern Liberia.

New flows of Ivorian refugees into Liberia

Refugees move to new camp in Liberia

UNHCR has begun transferring refugees from Côte d'Ivoire to a new refugee camp in the north-eastern Liberian town of Bahn. Over the coming weeks UNHCR hopes to move up to 15,000 refugees into the facility, which has been carved out of the jungle. They are among almost 40,000 civilians from Côte d'Ivoire who have fled to escape mounting political tension in their country since the presidential election in late November.

The final number of people to move to Bahn will depend on how many wish to be relocated.from villages near the Liberia-Côte d'Ivoire border. Initially most of the refugees were taken in by host communities, living side-by-side with locals. Poor road conditions made it difficult for humanitarian agencies to deliver assistance. Supplies of food, medicine and water have been running low, making conditions difficult for both locals and refugees.

At the camp in Bahn, refugees will have easy access to basic services such as health care, clean water and primary school education.

Refugees move to new camp in Liberia

Photo Gallery: The Challenge of Forced Displacement in Africa

Africa is the continent most affected by the tragedy of forced displacement. While millions of refugees were able to return to Angola, Burundi, Liberia, Rwanda and South Sudan over the last 15 years, the numbers of internally displaced people continued to grow. At the beginning of 2009, in addition to some 2.3 million refugees, an estimated 11.6 million people were internally displaced by conflict in Africa.

To address forced displacement on the continent, the African Union is organizing a special summit on refugees, returnees and internally displaced people from October 19-23 in the Ugandan capital, Kampala. Heads of state and government will look at the challenges and at ways to find solutions to forced displacement. They are also expected to adopt a Convention for the protection and assistance of internally displaced people (IDP) in Africa, which would be the first legally binding instrument on internal displacement with a continental scope. This photo gallery looks at some of the forcibly displaced around Africa, many of whom are helped by UNHCR.

Photo Gallery: The Challenge of Forced Displacement in Africa

Liberia: A Neighbour's HelpPlay video

Liberia: A Neighbour's Help

Alphonse Gonglegbe fled to Liberia with his family a few months ago. He appreciates the help he's been receiving in this land neighbouring his native Côte d'Ivoire.
Liberia: Hurried FlightPlay video

Liberia: Hurried Flight

Tens of thousands of Ivorians have fled their villages and sought shelter in Liberia. Francis says he ran for his life and now he wants safety and food.
Liberia: Settling InPlay video

Liberia: Settling In

A dozen new shelters are built every day in Liberia's Bahn refugee camp. Eventually there will be 3,000 shelters for some of the many civilians who have fled from neighbouring Côte d'Ivoire.