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Towed Liberian returnee boat expected in Abidjan today

Briefing notes

Towed Liberian returnee boat expected in Abidjan today

21 May 2004

The stranded boat carrying 430 Liberian returnees from Nigeria and Ghana is now heading towards Abidjan and is expected in Côte d'Ivoire's economic capital by midday today. The ship is being towed by the French navy vessel, Le Henaff, which came in from a base in Togo and made contact with the returnee boat yesterday morning, some 30 miles offshore from the town of San Pedro, in Côte d'Ivoire.

The ship was initially expected in Abidjan by 6 this morning, but bad weather in high seas has slowed down its progress. All people on board have been provided water, food and medicine by the French military. A small team of UNHCR staff is standing ready to board the boat once it enters Abidjan harbour later today. We have received permission to board the ship from the Côte d'Ivoire authorities.

The boat went adrift on Tuesday afternoon off Côte d'Ivoire, after leaving Lagos, Nigeria, on May 3. It also stopped in Ghana on the way to pick up more Liberians wanting to return to their country.

UNHCR in Monrovia is standing ready to assist the returnees, once they reach Liberia. As this was a spontaneously organised journey, UNHCR has no information about the profile of the passengers and their final destinations in Liberia. Some details will become clearer after UNHCR visits the boat today.

UNHCR is not at this stage encouraging Liberians to return home, pending more stability in the country before organised repatriation takes place. Many spontaneous returnees have ended up internally displaced because they find upon going back to Liberia that they can't return to their original home areas. UNHCR has conducted information campaigns in the countries of asylum, encouraging Liberians to be patient. We are planning to start formal repatriation in October this year. We expect to help some 150,000 Liberians to return and reintegrate in 2004. There are currently some 350,000 Liberians in exile in West Africa.