UNHCR exceeds 2013 repatriation target for Ivorian refugees in Liberia
MONROVIA, Liberia, 27 November (UNHCR) - The UN refugee agency has exceeded its 2013 target of 16,000 voluntary repatriations of Ivorian refugees in Liberia and plans to organize several more return convoys to Côte d'Ivoire before the end of the year.
As of last weekend, UNHCR had assisted 16,232 refugees to return home, mainly to locations in western Côte d'Ivoire. The return figure for 2013 is more than double the 8,000 repatriations that took place in both 2012 and 2011. More than 1,500 refugees have been repatriated over the past week, including some 1,000 who were ferried across the Cestos River from Liberia's Nimba County to the Bin-Houye area in western Côte d'Ivoire.
"Together with the government of Liberia and our partners, we have already achieved our repatriation goal and with more convoys scheduled to leave in the coming weeks, the number of refugees assisted to return home in 2013 will continue to grow," said Khassim Diagne, UNHCR's Representative to Liberia.
Concerns about security along Liberia's border with Côte d'Ivoire had frequently presented challenges to the repatriation programme, which was launched by the UN refugee agency in 2011. The killing of seven UN peace-keepers on the Ivorian side of the border in 2012 interrupted the returns operation. In March 2013, attacks by armed men on a number of Ivorian villages again created anxiety among refugees. Poor road conditions during this year's rainy season have also been an issue.
"The improvement of the security situation along the border had a very positive impact on our work," said Diagne. The use of boats to ferry refugees across Cestos river also allowed UNHCR to continue the returns despite flooded roads. "The journey home by road is long and requires that we spend a night at a transit centre," said Pierre, an Ivorian farmer returning home with his wife and three children. "By using the river we can be home in less than a day."
Liberia currently hosts nearly 58,000 Ivorian refugees most of whom are living in Nimba, Grand Gedeh and Maryland counties. UNHCR works in collaboration with the Liberia Refugee Repatriation and Resettlement Commission and other partners.
Liberia's president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and the president of Côte d'Ivoire Alassane Ouattara recently called on Ivorian refugees living in Liberia to return home and contribute to the development of their country.
By Sulaiman Momodu in Monrovia, Liberia