Refugee camp closed in Liberia as return to Côte d'Ivoire gathers momentum

UNHCR is well on course to meet its repatriation target of 16,000 Ivorian refugees for this year, with 7,834 returns as of Friday and more convoys planned this month.

The camp assets, including the solid school buildings and water pumps, were handed over to the local community on the closure of the camp.   © UNHCR/S.Momodu

SOLO REUGEE CAMP, Liberia, March 25 (UNHCR) - The Liberian government, with the help of UNHCR, closed Solo refugee camp in the south-east of the country as the number of Ivorians returning home picked up pace in the first months of this year.

Solo was one of six refugee camps established during the crisis that followed the disputed presidential election in Côte d'Ivoire in late 2010, forcing some 220,000 Ivorians to flee to Liberia. Most have returned either with UNHCR's assistance or by their own means, and Solo on Friday became the third camp to be closed since 2012.

The Liberia Refugee Repatriation and Resettlement Commission and UNHCR decided to close Solo in an effort to cut costs and to provide better protection and assistance to the remaining 46,000 Ivorian refugees at a time of continuing repatriation.

UNHCR is well on course to meet its repatriation target of 16,000 Ivorian refugees for this year, with 7,834 returns as of Friday. Convoys planned for the rest of this month, mainly to locations in western Côte d'Ivoire, could bring the total repatriated in the first quarter to more than 9,000.

This is more than half the year's target and compares to some 8,000 repatriated in total in 2012 and 2013. The stepped up pace of repatriation is a clear sign of increased confidence in the security, political and economic situation back home.

"The closure of Solo camp is part of the joint strategy by the government of Liberia and UNHCR to consolidate refugee camps and provide targeted interventions especially in an environment where resources are scarce," UNHCR Representative Khassim Diagne said at the closing ceremony of the 85-acre camp.

The camp assets will be used by the local population. They included buildings that once housed a primary school, a clinic, offices, a police station and barracks, a warehouse and distribution halls.

Solo Refugee Camp was established in April 2011. At its peak, the camp hosted about 6,000 Ivorian refugees. About half of them voluntarily repatriated to Côte d'Ivoire while others relocated to the PTP Refugee Camp, which is the largest refugee camp in Liberia, hosting more than 15,000 Ivorian refugees. The other two camps are at Bahn and Little Wlebo, both in the east.

By Sulaiman Momodu in Solo Refugee Camp, Liberia