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

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.