Liberia: UNHCR-assisted returns from Sierra Leone set to hit 100,000-mark

Briefing Notes, 5 June 2007

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Jennifer Pagonis to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 5 June 2007, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

With today's arrival of a repatriation convoy from Sierra Leone, the number of UNHCR-assisted returns to Liberia will pass the 100,000 mark. The Liberian repatriation has been one of the largest UNHCR operations in Africa for the past two and a half years and it is scheduled to end on 30 June. It will mark the conclusion of large repatriation operations in the West African region. We expect many more Liberian refugees to return before the cut-off date. The landmark convoy carrying 258 returning refugees will cross today from Sierra Leone into Liberia at Bo Waterside border crossing.

To date, since the start of the Liberian repatriation operation in October 2004, more than 150,000 refugees have returned to Liberia. In addition to 100,000 returns assisted by UNHCR half of them from neighbouring Guinea another 50,000 Liberian refugees returned home on their own over the past few years, encouraged by the restoration of peace and the inauguration of the democratically elected president and government.

In Liberia, UNHCR has been also involved in the return of some 314,000 internally displaced people to their areas of origin. This programme was successfully completed in April 2006. Liberian internally displaced had been living in camps mainly around the capital, Monrovia, during the more than decade-long Liberian conflict.

For the past two and a half years UNHCR returned refugees by air, sea and road from all the neighbouring countries and the region. On arrival, refugees are provided with a transportation grant, food and a number of household items. Reintegration and improving livelihoods of returnees have been long-term key priorities for UNHCR. We and our partners have been repairing shelters, roads, water wells, schools and clinics. We have also provided vocational training programmes, which in turn, have been helping to secure much-needed jobs in the community. Following the end of the organised repatriation, we are preparing, together with the countries still hosting thousands of Liberian refugees, to embark on long-term programmes aiming to achieve their local integration. The ultimate goal of these programmes will be to bring the displacement chapter in West Africa to a successful closure.

There are still some 83,000 Liberian refugees in West Africa. More than 23,000 remain in Ghana, 22,000 in Côte d'Ivoire, 15,000 in Sierra Leone, 15,000 in Guinea, some 4,000 in Nigeria, and the rest are scattered in other countries of the region.

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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

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

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.