Relaunched Liberian repatriation operation gains momentum
MONROVIA, Liberia, May 26 (UNHCR) - The UN refugee agency has helped almost 900 Liberians return home from other West African countries since resuming a voluntary repatriation programme in mid-April.
UNHCR, with aircraft space provided by the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL), has flown home 646 returnees from Ghana, 196 from Guinea and 41 from Nigeria since April 13. An estimated 200 Liberians have returned home on their own from Côte d'Ivoire and 61 from Sierra Leone during the same period.
The Liberia Refugee Repatriation and Resettlement Commission (LRRRC), UNHCR's main government partner, has established a transit centre to process refugees returning through Monrovia's Roberts International Airport, which is located some 55 kilometres from the capital.
"UNHCR remains confident that despite some operational challenges, the process of returning Liberians home will stay on course," said UNHCR Representative to Liberia Renata Dubini.
The UN refugee agency formally ended its Liberia repatriation programme in June last year, after bringing back more than 100,000 refugees - half of them from Ghana - in slightly less than three years. Another 50,000 returned home on their own, encouraged by the restoration of peace and democracy.
But a decision was taken to renew the assisted repatriation programme during a meeting in April between UNHCR and the governments of Ghana and Liberia.
The meeting followed disturbances a month earlier in Ghana involving refugees at Buduburam camp near Accra, who were seeking resettlement in a third country or repatriation with a vastly increased cash grant. Some of the protesters were deported to Liberia.
Enthusiasm for return has since been growing among the refugee population, especially in Ghana. UNHCR hopes that some 12,000 refugees in Buduburam will return home by the end of October.
Michael Williams, who arrived back in Monrovia on Friday, was looking forward to resuming life in Liberia. "We are glad to return home with new skills learned in exile. We shall try to use our skills to earn our living and contribute to the reconstruction of Liberia," he said, while adding: "The government should provide jobs."
The repatriation programme will be reviewed at the next tripartite meeting on July 26 in Accra between UNHCR, Ghana and Liberia. The possibility of resuming land convoys is likely to be raised at this meeting.
UNHCR has also been actively involved in reintegration projects in Liberia. The agency and its partners have been repairing shelters, roads, wells, schools and clinics. It has also provided vocational training programmes, which in turn have been helping to secure much-needed jobs in the community.
By Oscar Nkulu in Monrovia, Liberia