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More and more Liberians returning home from Guinea

News Stories, 20 July 2006

© UNHCR/A.Rehrl
Returnees from Guinea eat a hot meal after reaching Voinjama transit centre in northern Liberia.

MONROVIA, Liberia, July 20 (UNHCR) Liberian refugees are returning home from Guinea in increasing numbers. On July 14, a UNHCR convoy carrying 761 refugees arrived at Voinjama in northern Liberia from camps around the southern Guinea town of Nzérékoré.

A week earlier, a similar convoy brought home 755 Liberians. They were the two largest convoys of returnees since the UN refugee agency launched its voluntary repatriation programme for Liberians in October 2004. The number of Liberians repatriated from Guinea with UNHCR stands at 37,547, including more than 17,500 this year alone.

Voinjama is located in Lofa County, one of the areas hardest hit during Liberia's 1989-2003 civil war. But around 60 per cent of all organized returns have come back to this area. The UNHCR office in Voinjama has received 137 convoys so far, including between 10 and 14 a month this year.

A lot of public and international attention has focused on the area, the bread basket of Liberia, and donors, humanitarian agencies and the government want to encourage returns here.

Since being elected in November, President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf has been calling on her compatriots to return home from several countries in the region. "We take the return of a high number of people as a sign of confidence," she said recently, while warning of difficulties facing people after their return.

High returns to Lofa send a strong signal of hope to Liberians inside and outside the country. The last round of fighting in the civil war began in this northern region in 2001 and swept across the country, leaving 323,000 people internally displaced and forcing tens of thousands to flee the country.

More than 120,000 displaced people have returned to their homes in Lofa within the past year. To build on this, UNHCR has said combined reintegration efforts must continue smoothly.

High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres visited Liberia last month and stressed the urgent developmental inputs this recovering nation needs, including employment creation and infrastructure rehabilitation.

UNHCR co-funded the recent rehabilitation of a 67-kilometre-long road linking Voinjama with Foya near the border with Sierra Leone. With good roads, repatriation can go ahead unhindered by such uncertainties as the weather.

With its partner, Peace Wind Japan, UNHCR has set up a shelter assistance programme aimed at helping the returnees. It also runs water and sanitation programmes, and education, health, agricultural and income-generating projects among others.

Meanwhile, the Liberia Humanitarian Mid-Year Appeal 2006 is asking donors to contribute an additional US$104 million to help fund humanitarian projects undertaken by non-governmental organisations and UN agencies.

A UN statement released by the UN Mission in Liberia said parts of the country still require urgent humanitarian help. "The majority of the population remains without access to adequate basic services including health care, drinking water, shelter and education. Many of them also face severe food insecurity. This situation is compounded by inadequate infrastructure, with many roads becoming impassable during the rainy season."

Funds were required for providing basic social services to vulnerable populations; revitalising communities to become sustainable, secure and productive; strengthening the capacity of civil society and local authorities to support recovery; supporting Liberian civil society; improving access through rehabilitation of roads and bridges: protecting vulnerable groups and combatting HIV/AIDS.

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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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