Liberian repatriation back on track as Ivorian tensions continue
TABOU, Côte d'Ivoire, Jan 31 (UNHCR) - As the UN refugee agency resumes most of its operations in Côte d'Ivoire, 158 Liberian refugees today left the volatile south-west under a UNHCR-organised return operation amid simmering tensions.
Since the emergency repatriation started on January 17, more than 1,250 Liberian refugees in the south-western Ivorian town of Tabou have returned home under UNHCR auspices. The pace of returns has picked up since the operation was restarted on Wednesday after a three-day suspension due to security concerns in the country.
A further over 1,700 Liberians have registered for return and are awaiting their turn at daily convoys leaving Tabou for Prollo town. From there, they will be taken by boat across the Cavaly river back into eastern Liberia, where they will receive UNHCR assistance in transit centres.
But not everyone can wait. Some of the Liberians in Tabou are so desperate to leave the area, they have asked UNHCR to help arrange free passage through a number of checkpoints between Tabou and Prollo currently being guarded by young vigilantes. The refugees have said they can do without immediate assistance on the Liberian side.
Tensions remain high in the Tabou area, where the local community suspects the Liberians of involvement with rebel fighters. Earlier this week, a group of 25 Liberian men was apprehended by young vigilantes at a church in Tabou, and taken to a site where they were verbally abused and threatened with death. The men were later released following intervention by UNHCR and government refugee officials, and will soon be repatriated with their families.
Refugees in Côte d'Ivoire have been targeted since fighting broke out in various parts of the country last September. The UN refugee agency, which remains very concerned about the overall security situation, has repeatedly appealed to the refugees to stay neutral, and for the loyalist forces and rebel fighters to stop recruiting them in the four-month-old conflict.