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UNHCR starts registering Liberian refugees for return from Sierra Leone

UNHCR starts registering Liberian refugees for return from Sierra Leone

The refugee agency has started registration in eastern Sierra Leone's Gondama and Tobanda camps after informing the refugees about their home conditions, repatriation and reintegration assistance, and other details. The facilitated repatriation will start in October.
21 September 2004
Born in exile, this young Liberian at Sierra Leone's Tobanda camp could be among the first to return home with UNHCR in October.

TOBANDA CAMP, Sierra Leone, Sept 21 (UNHCR) - With 10 days to go before the start of facilitated repatriation to Liberia, the UN refugee agency today started registering Liberian refugees in Sierra Leone who want to be transported back home.

On Tuesday, UNHCR started registration in eastern Sierra Leone's Gondama and Tobanda camps to verify data on refugees intending to repatriate with the assistance of UNHCR starting in October. The data - including name, age, sex, place of origin, education level and occupation - will help the agency plan reintegration assistance upon their return to Liberia.

The day before, UNHCR had started an information campaign in the camps to tell the refugees about conditions in their home areas, assistance packages and the planned schedule for repatriation. This will allow the refugees to decide for themselves when or if they want to return.

Many refugees seemed eager to repatriate, scrambling as the information brochures were being handed out. Some families said they might leave their children behind to finish school in Sierra Leone, or leave some family members to tend to their crops in the host country until harvest time.

A few refugees raised security concerns and wanted assurances that the whole of Liberia was safe and that basic infrastructure like schools, health facilities and civil administration were in place before making their decision.

The Liberian government recently declared four out of 15 counties safe for return. The UNHCR convoys that start in October will only facilitate the return of refugees who want to be transported back to these safe areas.

Gondama and Tobanda will be the first camps in Sierra Leone to start facilitated repatriation in October. The 228-km journey is expected to take three days because of poor road conditions along the way.

As of the beginning of 2004, Sierra Leone hosted more than 67,000 Liberian refugees out of an estimated 340,000 in the region. Other host countries include Côte d'Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea, Mali, Nigeria and Senegal.

Under UNHCR's regional multi-year repatriation and reintegration plan in Liberia, the agency is expecting some 100,000 Liberian refugees to return home this year, either assisted by UNHCR or spontaneously. Another 154,000 could repatriate in 2005, followed by 65,000 in 2006. In 2007, UNHCR will organise a verification exercise to determine the needs of Liberian refugees who remain in exile.

As the refugees, UNHCR and its partners gear up for the upcoming facilitated repatriation to Liberia, the funding situation still lags behind. So far, the refugee agency has only received $16.6 million out of the $39.2 million it needs to repatriate and reintegrate Liberian refugees this year.