Liberian spontaneous returnees take advantage of de-registration incentives
MONROVIA, Liberia, January 5 (UNHCR) - Drenched in sweat under a blazing sun but seemingly oblivious to the heat, Suzannah Hinneh waited patiently to join the queue of spontaneous refugee returnees from Côte d'Ivoire, Ghana and elsewhere. They had gathered at a site in Monrovia in anticipation of turning over their UNHCR Identification cards in exchange for a return assistance package.
Hinneh, mother of four children, fled her home in Maryland County at the onset of the war in Liberia in 1990 to Tabou, Côte d'Ivoire. When the situation there became untenable, she returned to Liberia in 2004 but held on to her refugee ID card hoping that someday she would receive some assistance.
Shortly before the holidays, Hinneh queued to get 4-month supply of food; blankets, sleeping mats, kitchen sets and other non-food items as well as a secondary transportation allowance of US$5 per person in exchange for her UNHCR documentation.
Wiping the perspiration from her brow, Hinneh recounted the challenges of returning and resettling back home in Liberia. Despite the difficulties, she has no regrets.
"Settling down has been slow for me," she acknowledged. "But with this assistance, at least I will have a meal for my family during the holiday season."
She said she also plans to use part of the package to start a business to support her children's education, something she had been unable to without a steady income.
Liberian refugees have been returning on their own since December 2003 owing to the improved social, humanitarian and political developments in the country. The de-registration exercise is intended to identify and assist those still in possession of the UNHCR refugee card.
"It is difficult to differentiate between spontaneous and assisted returnees as they all share similar humanitarian and social needs, and hence efforts should be made to help them", said UNHCR Representative in Liberia Mengesha Kebede. The de-registration exercise is expected to respond to this need and would also facilitate an accurate repatriation database of Liberian refugees, Kebede said. "It is our hope that more Liberians will come forward."
The UN refugee agency launched the de-registration exercise of spontaneous returnees from Ghana, Côte d'Ivoire and other countries of asylum in November in Monrovia, with some 250 people coming forward during the month for de-registered. To qualify, the returnees need to present a valid UNHCR document from 2003 to now, authenticated by UNHCR offices in countries of asylum.
Returnee Olaxson Koisee abandoned hope for resettlement and returned home last year from Ghana.
"Actually, I held on to my card in the hope that I will get resettlement to a third country, but I now realize the limitation of this option so I came back home," Koisee explained. He is currently enrolled at one of the universities in Monrovia. He termed the process timely and with the incentives he would now be able to contribute help to his host family.
By Sarah Fyneah Brownell in Monrovia, Liberia