Liberians repatriate from Guinea, IDPs set to return
The return of Liberian refugees and internally displaced people (IDPs) to their homes is gaining momentum with the first convoy of returnees from Guinea scheduled to arrive tomorrow (Saturday) and the return of IDPs starting on Monday, 1 November. Tomorrow, the first convoy of Liberian refugees from Guinea is scheduled to arrive in Bong County in northern Liberia, almost a month after UNHCR's facilitated voluntary repatriation to the war-ravaged country started. The truck convoy, carrying 193 returnees from Lainé camp in the Nzérékoré region of Guinea, will cross over into Liberia at Ganta, in Bong County.
Guinea is the largest country of asylum for Liberian refugees in West Africa, and at the beginning of the year was sheltering some 149,000 Liberians who fled during the country's 14-year civil war. Several thousand refugees have since opted to return using their own means.
The returnees will be welcomed at the Liberian border town of Guecke by local authorities and UNHCR before continuing to the nearby TV Tower transit centre. There, the returnees will get a hot meal, medical screening, a food package to last two months, and non-food items to help them start up their new lives. After overnighting at the centre, the returnees will be transported to their final destination or drop-off point in Bong County, one of the six counties in Liberia declared safe for refugee and IDP returns. A battalion of Bangladeshi troops from the UN Mission in Liberia, UNMIL, will increase patrols in villages of return in the county.
Since the facilitated repatriation to Liberia started on 1 October, over 500 refugees have returned home on land convoys from Sierra Leone and by airlift from Ghana. We are expecting the pace to pick up in the months ahead of the elections scheduled in October 2005. UNHCR is encouraging the Liberian National Electoral Commission to enfranchise as many returnees and IDPs as possible. We are asking for the late registration of refugees who return home after April 15, 2005 - the current deadline for the voter registration.
Under UNHCR's multi-year repatriation programme we plan to return home a total of 28,700 returnees by the end of the year including 10,000 from Guinea, 10,000 from Sierra Leone, 5,000 from Côte d'Ivoire, 2,700 from Ghana, 1,000 from Nigeria and 300 from others countries. Overall, UNHCR is expecting some 340,000 Liberian refugees scattered around West Africa to return home during the repatriation programme which will extend to end 2007.
This Monday, 1 November, UNHCR, in a joint effort with other UN agencies, is planning to start the first phase of the voluntary relocation of internally some 261,000 displaced people currently located in 20 camps around Monrovia to counties declared safe. Some 500 IDPs, from Perry Town and Wilson camps, including 200 refugees who had returned on their own accord from Sierra Leone in 2003, but were unable to travel to their areas of origin because they were unsafe, will be on the first convoy.
During the first phase, IDPs will return to Grand Cape Mount County near the Sierra Leone border, with a second phase to Bomi county planned for the middle of the month. This will be followed by returns to the counties of Gbarpolu, Margibi, Bong and Rivercess.
Most of the IDPs would be returning to the rural farming communities they came from. They will receive a resettlement package, seeds and tools to help them restart their lives. The resettlement assistance and transport allowance will be given at distribution points in the county of return. The resettlement assistance includes two months food rations, blankets, sleeping mats, one cooking set per family, a tarpaulin, soap, transportation to county of return, and a second travel grant for onward travel.