UNHCR wraps up the Liberian repatriation operation

Briefing Notes, 4 January 2013

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 4 January 2013, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

In West Africa, UNHCR has concluded the repatriation operation for tens of thousands of Liberians who were forced into exile because of 14 years of civil war in their country. The final 724 Liberians returned from Guinea on the last weekend of 2012, officially ending our return program that began a year after peace was restored in Liberia, in 2004.

In total, UNHCR helped 155,560 Liberian refugees go home, mainly by road convoys and flights. As part of the program, each returning refugee received a small cash grant to help them restart their lives.

Once back home, the returnees are further helped by the Liberia Refugee Repatriation and Resettlement Commission (LRRRC) to get jobs, including government positions for those with the required skills. LRRRC also provides scholarships and assistance in acquiring a plot of land for construction of their houses.

Liberia's civil war broke out on Christmas Eve 1989 and ended in 2003. 750,000 civilians became either internally displaced (ca. 500,000) or refugees (ca. 250,000) in the ensuing violence and instability. Some refugees spent more than two decades in countries such as Côte d'Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea, Mali, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, and Gambia. Many have since returned with UNHCR help and most of the rest on their own.

Owing to the restoration of peace and stability in Liberia, the end of refugee status came into effect on 30 June 2012 for Liberians who had fled the fighting.

Meanwhile, Liberia hosts nearly 67,000 Ivorian refugees who had to flee from violence in their own country. The majority of them sought refuge in Liberia during the post-electoral crisis in 2010 and 2011. The facilitated voluntary repatriation of Ivorian refugees is also in progress although most have indicated they would like to stay in Liberia until stronger reconciliation processes are initiated in their country.

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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.