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Côte d'Ivoire: difficult Liberian repatriation set to begin

Briefing notes

Côte d'Ivoire: difficult Liberian repatriation set to begin

17 January 2003

Using canoes and buses, UNHCR staff in strife-torn western Côte d'Ivoire are set to begin the repatriation of thousands of frightened Liberian refugees this morning. Nearly 2,400 Liberian refugees have registered at our office in the town of Tabou over the past three days. They include 850 who had fled into the compound earlier this month to escape growing tensions with the local population, and hundreds of others who came from surrounding villages upon hearing of the return operation.

Today's return will require both bus transport and canoes to ferry the first 100 Liberians across the Cavaly River that forms the border between the two countries. Five buses will carry the Liberians 30 km to the river, where the canoes will be waiting. UNHCR has requested a police security escort following days of negotiations with local villages for safe passage. Ivorian authorities have worked hard over the past week to calm tensions between the local population and the Liberian refugees.

Assuming today's first movement is successful, we plan to increase to 200 returns per day beginning tomorrow. UNHCR staff are on hand to receive the returnees on the other side of the river, in eastern Liberia's Maryland County. The returnees will be taken to a UNHCR transit centre, where they will receive assistance. Since mid-November, when the conflict in Côte d'Ivoire spread to the western border area, nearly 39,000 Liberians have returned home on their own.

We are still very concerned about one group of more than 5,000 Liberians in Nicla camp, south of Guiglo, who are afraid to return to Liberia because of their ethnicity. UNHCR has been seeking relocation for this group either in Côte d'Ivoire or to a third country. So far, we've been unable to find a safe place to take them.

In all, there may still be up to 50,000 Liberian refugees in western Côte d'Ivoire. UNHCR is also receiving requests for repatriation from Liberians elsewhere in Côte d'Ivoire, including Abidjan where some 100 have come forward.