UNHCR repatriates stranded Liberian refugees from Côte d'Ivoire

Briefing Notes, 27 May 2011

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 27 May 2011, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

This week UNHCR resumed the repatriation of Liberian refugees who had been stranded at our Abidjan office compound during the post-election crisis in Côte d'Ivoire. On Tuesday and Thursday, two chartered flights flew 264 Liberian refugees from the southern Ivorian city to Roberts International Airport, about 60 km from the Liberian capital, Monrovia.

These refugees had first sought refuge at our Abidjan office in December, when they were targeted amid allegations that Liberian mercenaries were fighting for ex-president Laurent Gbagbo in western Côte d'Ivoire. They asked to be repatriated to Liberia, and one group was flown home in March before growing insecurity forced the operation to be suspended.

Most of this week's returnees were heading home for the first time in nearly 20 years. Several were born in exile and are more fluent in French than English, Liberia's official language. Upon their arrival home, they were screened by Liberia's security and immigration personnel. UNHCR provided voluntary repatriation grants, including transportation allowances to go to their final destinations.

434 Liberian refugees have been helped home from Abidjan so far this year. There are still some refugees at our office compound who have not yet made up their minds about repatriation, while new groups have been approaching us to find out more about returning to Liberia.

Since 2004, UNHCR has helped more than 170,000 Liberian refugees to return home from the region. Our staff have been supporting Liberian returnee communities by rehabilitating schools, roads, clinics as well as providing water and sanitation facilities. We have also been helping people to support themselves through income generating projects across the country.

Although the Liberian war ended in 2003, there are still some 24,000 Liberian refugees in Côte d'Ivoire, mainly living in the western and south-western cities of Tabou and Guiglo.

Meanwhile, as the situation stabilizes in Côte d'Ivoire, the pace of the Ivorian outflow into neighbouring countries is gradually slowing. In the past week for example, the daily average number of Ivorians crossing into Liberia has gone down from 200 to 130. Ghana is also noting a downward trend.

However, UNHCR remains concerned about the slow progress of national reconciliation efforts in Côte d'Ivoire. Fear of reprisals is preventing hundreds of thousands of internally displaced people and refugees from going back to their homes in the west and in parts of Abidjan.

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