UNHCR helps Guinea ease the local integration of Liberian refugees

News Stories, 16 August 2007

© UNHCR/B.Clarke
A Liberian refugee dries the coffee harvest at her home in Guinea. UNHCR is helping Guinea smooth the way for the local integration of Liberians who cannot or will not go home.

NZEREKORE, Guinea, August 16 (UNHCR) When the UN refugee agency wrapped up its Liberian refugee repatriation programme earlier this year it did not turn its back on an estimated 80,000 people who have stayed behind in West African host countries like Guinea.

More than 350,000 Liberians fled the civil war raging in their country from 1989 to 2003. With the return of peace and democracy, tens of thousands opted to return home. From October 2004, UNHCR helped more than 105,000 Liberians repatriate from countries around the region, while a further 50,000 registered refugees made their own way back.

When the last of the recent large-scale repatriations in West Africa ended on June 30, UNHCR immediately buckled down to the task of finding durable solutions for the more than 23,000 Liberians who remained in Ghana, the 22,000 in Côte d'Ivoire, 14,000 in Guinea, 13,000 in Sierra Leone and 5,000 in Nigeria.

The rest are scattered in other nearby countries. These 80,000 Liberians either could not or would not return to a country where the years of war left 200,000 people dead and 800,000 internally displaced and devastated the economy, infrastructure and basic services.

In Guinea, the UN Refugee Agency is working with the newly established National Commission for the Integration and Monitoring of Refugees to find durable solutions for those who remained behind. They launched an information campaign aimed at sensitizing refugees, the local authorities and the general public to the aim and goals of integration programmes for Liberians.

The campaign has started in the southern Guinea Forestière region, where UNHCR is encouraging some 9,000 of the Liberians to opt for local integration, while advocating tolerance from Guineans and helping build confidence between refugees and the local population. To date, nearly 600 refugees have expressed their firm intention to be integrated in Guinea.

The joint campaign is being carried out through information meetings, seminars and the screening of documentaries in two camps Kouankan 1 and Lainé and surrounding prefectures. The camps are located near the town of Nzérékoré in southern Guinea.

Pierre Jouyep, head of the UNHCR office in Nzérékoré, said the government and the agency hoped to start moving the first group of Liberians to integration sites on October 1. "We do not exclude departures before this date, but that will depend on the number of refugees who express interest in this durable solution," he said.

UNHCR is also working closely with the Guinean government on the consolidation and advancement of national legislation regarding protection of refugees, asylum seekers and those seeking to remain and integrate in this country.

The UNHCR office in Conakry has helped the government draft new refugee and asylum legislation, which, once finalized, will be sent to the National Assembly for debate and endorsement.

Such measures and the local integration projects in Guinea and elsewhere should help bring the Liberian displacement chapter to a successful closure.

By Faya Foko Millimouno in Nzérékoré, Guinea