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UNHCR exceeds 2013 repatriation target for Ivorian refugees in Liberia

Making a Difference, 27 November 2013

© UNHCR/S.Momodu
Refugees from Côte d'Ivoire cross the Cavalla river in Liberia as they begin their journey home. More than 16,000 Ivorian refugees have repatriated in 2013.

MONROVIA, Liberia, 27 November (UNHCR) The UN refugee agency has exceeded its 2013 target of 16,000 voluntary repatriations of Ivorian refugees in Liberia and plans to organize several more return convoys to Côte d'Ivoire before the end of the year.

As of last weekend, UNHCR had assisted 16,232 refugees to return home, mainly to locations in western Côte d'Ivoire. The return figure for 2013 is more than double the 8,000 repatriations that took place in both 2012 and 2011. More than 1,500 refugees have been repatriated over the past week, including some 1,000 who were ferried across the Cestos River from Liberia's Nimba County to the Bin-Houye area in western Côte d'Ivoire.

"Together with the government of Liberia and our partners, we have already achieved our repatriation goal and with more convoys scheduled to leave in the coming weeks, the number of refugees assisted to return home in 2013 will continue to grow," said Khassim Diagne, UNHCR's Representative to Liberia.

Concerns about security along Liberia's border with Côte d'Ivoire had frequently presented challenges to the repatriation programme, which was launched by the UN refugee agency in 2011. The killing of seven UN peace-keepers on the Ivorian side of the border in 2012 interrupted the returns operation. In March 2013, attacks by armed men on a number of Ivorian villages again created anxiety among refugees. Poor road conditions during this year's rainy season have also been an issue.

"The improvement of the security situation along the border had a very positive impact on our work," said Diagne. The use of boats to ferry refugees across Cestos river also allowed UNHCR to continue the returns despite flooded roads. "The journey home by road is long and requires that we spend a night at a transit centre," said Pierre, an Ivorian farmer returning home with his wife and three children. "By using the river we can be home in less than a day."

Liberia currently hosts nearly 58,000 Ivorian refugees most of whom are living in Nimba, Grand Gedeh and Maryland counties. UNHCR works in collaboration with the Liberia Refugee Repatriation and Resettlement Commission and other partners.

Liberia's president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and the president of Côte d'Ivoire Alassane Ouattara recently called on Ivorian refugees living in Liberia to return home and contribute to the development of their country.

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

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.