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

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Jennifer Pagonis to whom quoted text may be attributed at today's press briefing 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.