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Surge in returns this year as end of refugee status for Liberians nears

News Stories, 26 June 2012

© UNHCR
Refugee returnee Roseline Teah with a customer in her clothes shop in Liberia.

MONROVIA, Liberia, June 26 (UNHCR) Roseline Teah is one of more than 8,500 Liberians who have repatriated this year before their refugees status is revoked, a dramatic increase on figures for 2010 and 2011.

From Sunday, UNHCR and governments will no longer recognize the refugee status of those who fled to other countries during the 1989-2003 civil wars. The so-called cessation clause has been invoked because the conditions that cost the lives of 250,000 people and uprooted more than 750,000 no longer exist in Liberia, which has been peaceful for almost a decade.

"I fled to Côte d'Ivoire in 1994 with nine children but returned in 1998. I fled again in 2003 and finally returned this year with my children and grandchildren," said Teah, 48, who lost her husband and her business in the devastating civil wars. "I love my home," she added.

She returned with the help of the UN refugee agency, which has assisted 8,532 refugees to return to Liberia this year, compared to 1,278 for the whole of 2010 and 1,762 in 2011. From 2004 to 2011, UNHCR facilitated the return of 126,180 Liberian refugees by land, air and sea.

Cosmas Chanda, UNHCR's representative in Liberia, said the agency would continue to facilitate the return of about 10,000 refugees in neighbouring countries who have already registered for repatriation.

Most of those who fled Liberia during two periods of conflict sought shelter in other West Africa countries, including Côte d'Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea, Nigeria, Sierra Leone and The Gambia.

Aside from running a voluntary repatriation programme for these refugees, UNHCR has also supported reintegration projects, including the rehabilitation of roads and bridges, clinics and hospitals, water and sanitation facilities, educational institutions. It has also funded skills training programmes and income-generation activities.

UNHCR also gives a cash grant and a transport allowance to returnees to help them get started in their places of origin. Teah, her family's breadwinner, said the help had been vital. "I am grateful to the UNHCR for the voluntary repatriation grant we received, which has enabled me to start a used clothes business with my family," she said.

Another recent returnee, Mathias L. Kamara, said he wanted to help young people with problems, continuing work that he had started as a refugee in the Buduburam refugee settlement in Ghana.

"We want teenagers to be focused in life. During the war many teenagers lost their focus and did drugs and other vices. They did not listen to their parents," explained Kamara, who returned to Liberia earlier this month. "We want to continue with the work we were doing in Ghana because young people are the future leaders of our country."

Alex C. Grant, a former refugee in Nigeria and current chairman of the parliamentary committee on refugee issues, encouraged refugees to return. The MP came back in 1998 and was elected to his seat in eastern Liberia during last year's general election.

But for those who do not heed calls to return, UNHCR is working with the Liberian authorities to deliver national passports to refugees wishing to integrate. In addition, UNHCR is working with its partners and the authorities to offer socio-economic programmes to facilitate integration and to deliver work and residence permits to all Liberians wishing to locally integrate.

The Liberia Refugee Repatriation and Resettlement Commission is assisting returnees by referring them to job opportunities, providing scholarships, and collaborating with ministries to absorb returnees with specific skills.

Meanwhile, Teah had a special word of thanks to those who had helped her and others in their hour of need. "I wonder what would have happened to me and my children if the UNHCR and other organizations were not there to help us refugees," she remarked.

By Sulaiman Momodu in Monrovia, Liberia

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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

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: 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.