UNHCR helps first group of Ivorian refugees return home from Liberia

News Stories, 25 October 2011

© UNHCR
The Ivorian refugees board trucks in Solo refugee camp, Liberia.

MONROVIA, Liberia, October 25 (UNHCR) The UN refugee agency has facilitated the return of the first group of Ivorian refugees who have opted for voluntary repatriation from Liberia, where they sought safety during the unrest that rocked Côte d'Ivoire after presidential elections last year.

A convoy of 12 vehicles carrying 118 people left the Solo refugee camp in Liberia's Grand Gedeh county on Friday in an operation organized by UNHCR and the Liberian Refugee Repatriation and Resettlement Commission. Earlier reports mistakenly put the total of returnees at 114.

The refugees, who were transported across the border to Toulepleu, the nearest transit centre on the Ivorian side, were provided with high-energy protein biscuits and water before leaving the camp.

The 105-kilometre journey from Solo camp to the transit centre lasted about four hours. The refugees have since returned to their villages in Blolequine, Toulepleu, Doukoue and Guiglo in Côte d'Ivoire.

Some of the refugees said they chose to go back home because security had improved, while others were returning so that their children can attend school. Others cited employment reasons, while a number said they wanted to participate in Côte d'Ivoire's parliamentary elections scheduled for December.

"UNHCR is not currently promoting returns but the tripartite agreement is now operational," said Robert Tibagwa, the UNHCR Deputy Representative in Liberia, referring to an agreement on voluntary repatriation signed in August by Côte d'Ivoire, Liberia and UNHCR. "We will continue to work with our partners to assist refugees who would like to return."

There are an estimated 163,200 Ivorian refugees in Liberia, including some 156,700 who have arrived since November last year and more than 6,500 who have been living in that country since 2003.

Violence erupted in Côte d'Ivoire when former president Laurent Gbagbo refused to step down after he lost the UN-certified election in November 2010 to Alassane Ouattara, who was sworn in after Gbagbo surrendered in April.

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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

Running for shelter in Côte d'Ivoire

UNHCR has expressed its mounting concern about civilians trapped in the Abobo district of Cote d'Ivoire's commercial centre, Abidjan, following days of fierce fighting between forces loyal to rival presidential candidates. The situation there remains grim. Many of the 1.5 million inhabitants of Abobo have fled, but armed groups are reportedly preventing others from leaving. UNHCR is particularly concerned about vulnerable people, such as the sick and the elderly, who may not be able to leave.

Running for shelter in Côte d'Ivoire

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.