UNHCR repatriates stranded Liberian refugees from Côte d'Ivoire

Briefing Notes, 27 May 2011

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Melissa Fleming to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 27 May 2011, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

This week UNHCR resumed the repatriation of Liberian refugees who had been stranded at our Abidjan office compound during the post-election crisis in Côte d'Ivoire. On Tuesday and Thursday, two chartered flights flew 264 Liberian refugees from the southern Ivorian city to Roberts International Airport, about 60 km from the Liberian capital, Monrovia.

These refugees had first sought refuge at our Abidjan office in December, when they were targeted amid allegations that Liberian mercenaries were fighting for ex-president Laurent Gbagbo in western Côte d'Ivoire. They asked to be repatriated to Liberia, and one group was flown home in March before growing insecurity forced the operation to be suspended.

Most of this week's returnees were heading home for the first time in nearly 20 years. Several were born in exile and are more fluent in French than English, Liberia's official language. Upon their arrival home, they were screened by Liberia's security and immigration personnel. UNHCR provided voluntary repatriation grants, including transportation allowances to go to their final destinations.

434 Liberian refugees have been helped home from Abidjan so far this year. There are still some refugees at our office compound who have not yet made up their minds about repatriation, while new groups have been approaching us to find out more about returning to Liberia.

Since 2004, UNHCR has helped more than 170,000 Liberian refugees to return home from the region. Our staff have been supporting Liberian returnee communities by rehabilitating schools, roads, clinics as well as providing water and sanitation facilities. We have also been helping people to support themselves through income generating projects across the country.

Although the Liberian war ended in 2003, there are still some 24,000 Liberian refugees in Côte d'Ivoire, mainly living in the western and south-western cities of Tabou and Guiglo.

Meanwhile, as the situation stabilizes in Côte d'Ivoire, the pace of the Ivorian outflow into neighbouring countries is gradually slowing. In the past week for example, the daily average number of Ivorians crossing into Liberia has gone down from 200 to 130. Ghana is also noting a downward trend.

However, UNHCR remains concerned about the slow progress of national reconciliation efforts in Côte d'Ivoire. Fear of reprisals is preventing hundreds of thousands of internally displaced people and refugees from going back to their homes in the west and in parts of Abidjan.

For further information on this topic, please contact:

  • In Abidjan: Bernadette Kouame on mobile +225 06 73 75 59
  • In Geneva: Fatoumata Lejeune-Kaba on mobile +41 79 249 3483
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UNHCR country pages

Repatriation

UNHCR works with the country of origin and host countries to help refugees return home.

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

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

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.