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Former Ivorian refugees rebuild their lives as Côte d'Ivoire recovers peace


Former Ivorian refugees rebuild their lives as Côte d'Ivoire recovers peace

Following peace and stability, Ivorian returnees are starting a new life and contributing to the recovery of their home country.
03 March 2023

"In 2002, when I was still a teenager, I lost my father and mother. It was very painful as both were killed when conflict erupted in my country and my sister was also raped. So, when, in 2010, I heard the drums of war beating hundreds of kilometres away in the capital Abidjan, I immediately fled the country for Liberia together with my family,” says former Ivorian refugee Mahoto Bouehi Gervais.

“Our youngest child was only six months old at the time,” he says, recalling that they trekked for two days, surviving only on wild fruits they found on the way and drinking water from ponds and streams before arriving at a camp for refugees where they were provided humanitarian support.

As peace and stability returned in Côte d’Ivoire following two decades of conflict, Gervais decided to return to his home country. The father of five is among thousands of Ivorian refugees who were assisted by UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency to return and rebuild their lives.

Harnessing the skills he gained in exile, Gervais joined a soap-making project supported by UNHCR partner, Caritas. “During my stay in Liberia, I learnt about soap-making by working with other refugees,” he says.

In 2021, Gervais teamed up with other returnees including ten women and founded the Anédoué organization in Klobly, which comprised of two people from the host community and thirteen returnees.

Anédoué, which means "unity" in the native Guéré language makes handcrafted soap.

“The Anédoué group is made up of people who believe in the strength of solidarity to overcome all obstacles, especially the difficulties associated with reintegration after living for many years as refugees," says Gervais. He adds that they now intend to boost their soap manufacturing to meet the demands of a broader market and to continue to transform their lives and contribute to the local economy.

Juliette Kpahie who is the group’s treasurer says the income from their activity allows her and other members to send their children to school and to take care of them. “Our activity is developing well. After deducting all expenses, the profit allows the 15 members to meet their needs and take care of their families,” she says.

However, the difficulties linked to the transportation of their products to nearby markets remain a concern for her and her colleagues in the group. "Transporting the goods is hard and physically demanding. We fear that this will affect our performance and health. We are appealing for support with a tricycle as this would make things easier for us," she pleads. 

UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, supported the returnees, who are largely from western Côte d'Ivoire, thanks to financing from the US government and the Ivorian government's efforts in leading the reintegration process by addressing land concerns, ensuring that refugees and hosts receive the appropriate papers, and maintaining peaceful coexistence.

“To help the returnees settle down at home, they were given assistance including income-generating activities, reintegration funds and the development of facilities for the most vulnerable such as shelters and latrines,” says Papa Kysma Sylla, the UNHCR Representative in Côte d’Ivoire.

In addition to the Anédoué organization in Klobly, other returnees have also benefited from the reintegration programme. Madoussou Traoré, a resident of Danané, is a widow and a mother of 12 kids, eight of whom are from her deceased co-wife. She received a two-room apartment as part of a shelter initiative.

“I'm not sure how things would have turned out if I had to rent a home for my family. How will I get the funds? A big relief is having your own home."


“I'm not sure how things would have turned out if I had to rent a home for my family. How will I get the funds? A big relief is having your own home,” she explains. The 35-year-old woman says it is extremely difficult to take care of numerous children since they need to be fed, educated, and cared for and that her husband and co-wife are both dead. "UNHCR has also supported me with training and establishing a small business; yet, with numerous expenditures, we are barely living. Without this assistance, life would have been even more difficult" explained Madoussou.

“The reintegration programs are intended to benefit both returning residents and the communities in which they dwell. As part of its commitment to providing durable solutions, the UNHCR has directly assisted over 100,000 refugees who returned home since 2011,” says the UNHCR Representative.

As Cote d’Ivoire becomes a shining example of a country that has transitioned from war to peace, Gervais and Kpahie both hope that they will never again go through the same ordeal because of political upheavals. “Our prayer is that our country will remain very stable and that everyone will live in peace and harmony. War destroys but with peace, we can continue our economic activities and rebuild our lives and create a brighter future for our children,” she prays.