Ferry tale comes true for Liberians returning to Maryland county
PROLLO, Côte d'Ivoire, March 10 (UNHCR) - A ferry linking southern Côte d'Ivoire and south-eastern Liberia has been repaired and successfully tested as Liberian refugees gear up to repatriate to Maryland county in the coming weeks.
The ferry had been shot and damaged by the Ivorian army in 2003 in an attempt to prevent rebels from using it. Subsequently, the UN refugee agency replaced the two engines and put the ferry back on the Cavally river in Prollo, Côte d'Ivoire, last weekend.
"The Prollo villagers were so happy to see the ferry running after so long," said UNHCR programme officer Ibrahima Sylla. "They told me it was a real joy and now they want a big inaugural ceremony similar to the one we organized the first time we bought the ferry. The Minister of Interior and the UNHCR Representative all travelled to Prollo for that occasion."
The ferry, which can carry 28 tons, will prove instrumental when UNHCR starts repatriating Liberian refugees to Maryland county in April. This will be the first time organised returns are taking place to the county in south-eastern Liberia since the refugee agency launched its regional operation for the return of Liberian refugees last October.
As part of the preparations, UNHCR is also planning to carry out a census of the refugees in Tabou. In all, the agency expects to register an estimated 48,000 Liberian refugees in south-western Côte d'Ivoire.
Meanwhile, in western Côte d'Ivoire, the situation is reportedly calm but tense following clashes between pro-government militias and rebels on February 28.
UNHCR has so far registered 7, 529 Liberian refugees in Nicla camp, Guiglo city and Danané in a census that started on February 21.
A travel ban for aid workers still holds to the west of Guiglo, where more than 10,000 Liberian refugees are awaiting registration in villages near the Liberian border.
The census registration is aimed at updating refugee information and providing refugees with identity documents certifying their status. A lack of valid documentation in a conflict environment can subject refugees to harassment or suspicion of membership of one or other of the fighting forces.
Côte d'Ivoire hosts some 70,000 Liberian refugees originating from the counties of Nimba, Grand Gedeh and Maryland.
Since October 2004, UNHCR has repatriated 8,500 Liberian refugees from Guinea, Sierra Leone, Ghana and Nigeria. The agency has also transported over 62,000 internally displaced Liberians back to their villages.
By Fatoumata Kaba
UNHCR Côte d'Ivoire