Liberia: operation to return stranded returnees ends safely
The special humanitarian operation to fly Liberian refugees home after their boat became stranded off the south Ivorian coast last week came to a successful end yesterday (Thursday).
A two-day airlift on Wednesday and Thursday in a DC-9 plane chartered by UNHCR and IOM flew 319 refugees from the Ivorian city of Abidjan to the Liberian capital, Monrovia. There were two flights on both days.
There were emotional scenes on the plane as it touched safely down on Liberian soil, ending the refugees' ordeal.
The refugees had started their homeward journey from Nigeria and Ghana in early May on a hired ship, the Dona Elvira. But the vessel broke down in the Gulf of Guinea and drifted for days in the stormy sea before it was found and towed into Abidjan.
At the airport in Monrovia, the refugees were welcomed by UNHCR and the Liberian Refugees Repatriation and Resettlement Commission (LRRRC), then registered and had medical and immigration checks. Afterwards, they were transported into Monrovia, where most were staying with relatives. The refugees said they were keen to start rebuilding their lives.
Their boat trip was a spontaneously organised journey, not a UNHCR operation. UNHCR is warning Liberian refugees in the region about the dangers of rushing home on their own and is urging them to wait for the organised repatriation, which will start in October, pending more stability in the country.
We expect to help about 150,000 Liberians return and reintegrate in 2004. There are currently some 350,000 Liberians in exile in West Africa.