UNHCR closes a transit centre for Liberian refugees in Côte d'Ivoire
TABOU, Côte d'Ivoire, July 7 (UNHCR) - The closure earlier this week of the UNHCR transit centre in this town in south-west Côte d'Ivoire ended another chapter in the search for solutions for thousands of Liberian refugees. UNHCR representative Mahamadou Touré handed the keys of the centre to local officials during a brief ceremony on Monday.
Commenting on the reasons for the closure, Touré said the experience of refugees admitted to transit centres went through "an influx stage when refugees are hosted and settled, an assistance stage and a closure stage when the conditions are right for the refugees to return to their country of origin." He said high maintenance costs were also a factor.
Tabou is located on the southernmost tip of Côte d'Ivoire's western border with Liberia. This area hosts most of the 38,000 Liberian refugees in Côte d'Ivoire, with more than 25,000 in the prefectures of Tabou and San Pédro alone.
Built in 1998 for repatriation operations, the transit centre here was expanded to temporarily accept more than 3,000 Liberian refugees fleeing fighting in their homeland in May 2003. It has been kept open longer than originally planned in the hope that the refugees would return home under a voluntary repatriation programme launched by UNHCR in October 2004.
Improvements in the political and security situation in Liberia allowed UNHCR to begin the process of facilitating and encouraging the return of refugees. More than 15,000 Liberian refugees have returned home with the UN refugee agency's help since UNHCR and the governments of Liberia and Côte d'Ivoire signed a tripartite agreement on September 27, 2004. A further 15,0000 have returned home without help.
With Liberia's return to normality after last year's presidential election, UN agencies moved toward promotion of repatriation in February this year and encouraged refugees to follow the example of those who had already returned.
Throughout last year and the first four months of this year, UNHCR and Liberian authorities ran an information campaign about the planned closure of the Tabou centre. The campaign was aimed at refugees and communities who had hosted them.
The relocation of some 2,400 Liberian refugees who have been living in the centre and want to remain in the area was launched on June 15 with the help of local authorities began and by the end of the month they had all been found places to stay in Tabou and surrounding villages.
By Simplice Kpandji in Tabou, Côte d'Ivoire