New political order pulling Liberian refugees home
MONROVIA, Liberia, 9 Feb (UNHCR) - Heeding the call of their new president to return and help rebuild the country, Liberian refugees have been streaming home from Ghana, Nigeria, and neighbouring Sierra Leone and Guinea with UNHCR assistance to embrace the new peace.
Jerome Chayee, who escaped from the country at the onset of the civil conflict in 1990, was among the first batch of returnees to bid farewell to life in exile barely days after Liberia inaugurated its first female President.
"Well, I heard the call of the president and have taken the chance to return home, hoping that she will deliver on her promises to restore our dignity and reunite the country," Chayee said.
Jerome along with his wife, an aged mother of 70 and three children, arrived in Liberia aboard a chartered flight under the repatriation exercise from Lagos, Nigeria. Jerome was happy his children - all born in exile - can now live in their homeland and appreciate their heritage.
Amid greetings, cheers and tears from excited relatives who had gone to receive their relatives, Jerome was unable to hide his delight. "Actually, I didn't expect what I am seeing here today. There is life still in this place," he said, watching the buzzing activities at the airport.
As for the future, Jerome, who has a masters degree in public administration and a postgraduate diploma in community development, is optimistic he will find a job. "Liberia needs qualified people and UNHCR has helped prepare me for this challenge to help rebuild my country."
While others like Jerome have to find jobs, returnee Jumel Turay is filled with excitement that he already has a place to share his skills with other Liberians. He has returned to work in the Monrovia Branch of the Computer Training Centre that was set up by Liberian refugees at the Orun refugee camp in Nigeria. Jerome believes improvements in the country will eventually trigger a large number of returns.
"Now that everything is starting anew, it is better to come home to seek employment or like me to continue to help build the skills of others," he says.
UNHCR is currently accelerating the repatriation of Liberian refugees, taking advantage of the better road conditions during the dry season which ends in June.
As more refugees are expected to return in the months to come, reintegration and reconstruction are priorities. UNHCR has increased its absorption capacity nationwide though community projects, including repairing shelters, roads, water points, schools and clinics.
So far, more that 46,000 Liberian refugees have been assisted to come home by sea, air and overland routes under the voluntary repatriation exercise launched by UNHCR on 1 October 2004.
By Sarah Brownell in Monrovia, Liberia