10,000 Liberian refugees return home
More than 10,000 Liberian refugees have returned home with UNHCR assistance since the refugee agency started its voluntary repatriation programme in October 2004. After more than fifteen years of civil war, the twin process of return and reintegration is in full swing.
The 10,000 mark was crossed last week when three convoys repatriated 963 Liberians from Guinea, bringing to 10,566 the total number of returns from the region under the UNHCR programme. Liberians have also been returning home from Sierra Leone, Ghana, Ivory Coast and Nigeria. In addition, close to 100,000 internally displaced Liberians have returned to their areas of origin.
All returning refugees receive start-up assistance of food rations, household items and agricultural tools. UNHCR and its partners have so far implemented 1,000 community empowerment projects in Liberia's areas of return. These projects seek to help returnees settle back home and to absorb the impact of mass returns on the local communities. Both groups are directly involved in efforts to repair shelters, roads, water points, schools and clinics, which in turn, provide much-needed jobs in the community.
Liberia is one of UNHCR's biggest voluntary repatriation programmes in Africa for the current year. We hope to assist the return of some 150,000 Liberian refugees in the course of 2005. Reintegration and reconstruction remain key priorities as more refugees are expected to return to Liberia in the months leading up to the presidential elections in October 2005.
The changes of the past two years offer Liberia and the region a real opportunity for peace and stability, but after fifteen years of conflict, the security situation is still fragile, and the reintegration of former soldiers and combatants remains problematic. In this respect, the long-term commitment of the international community is crucial to help rebuild Liberia, one of the world's poorest countries.
Other voluntary repatriation programmes in Africa include the repatriation of Burundian refugees from Tanzania and that of Angolan refugees from several African countries.