First repatriation of Liberians from opposition-held northern Côte d'Ivoire
GENEVA, September 15 (UNHCR) - The UNHCR this week began for the first time repatriating Liberian refugees from areas of Côte d'Ivoire under the control of opposition forces.
The first group of 198 refugees left on Tuesday from the western town of Danané, which is under the control of Forces Nouvelles (New Forces) fighters. They spent a night in the village of Gbinta, where they received food and a medical examination.
The next day, the returnees crossed the nearby Nihon River, which separates the two countries. On the Liberian side, the group was received by UNHCR and its partners and transported to their places of origin. They were also given household items, sanitary kits, a stock of food and cash to help them get started.
UNHCR's regional repatriation operation for Liberian refugees has been under way since October 2004, but until now all return movements of Liberians from Côte d'Ivoire came from government-controlled areas.
"This is an important step in light of the fact that UNHCR's repatriation operation has been under way for nearly two years," UNHCR representative in Côte d'Ivoire, Saber Azam, said. "The Liberian refugees in Danané and neighbouring villages expressed their desire to go back home. It was important to enable these people to exercise their inalienable right to return, and we helped them to do so."
UNHCR has assisted the return of some 16,000 Liberians from Côte d'Ivoire. Of the 38,000 Liberian refugees still hosted by Côte d'Ivoire, about 2,000 are in Danané.
Once a beacon of economic and political stability, Côte d'Ivoire descended into civil war in 2002 after a failed coup attempt against President Laurent Gbagbo. The conflict left thousands of people dead and the country split between the New Forces-held north and the government-controlled south.
More than 10,000 United Nations and French peacekeepers control a buffer zone between the north and south. A government of national unity resigned earlier this month over a toxic waste scandal, but opposition parties and the New Forces group said they would not join any new government.
Since October 2004, UNHCR has helped close to 80,000 refugees return to Liberia from Guinea, Sierra Leone and Côte d'Ivoire. Another 150,000 Liberian refugees have returned home on their own. There are still some 142,000 Liberian refugees in the West Africa region.