Close sites icon close
Search form

Search for the country site.

Country profile

Country website

Return to Liberia gains momentum with largest convoy to date

Return to Liberia gains momentum with largest convoy to date

A total of 239 Liberian refugees are heading home today from their camps in Sierra Leone in the fourth and largest convoy since the operation started. Those still in exile are discussing their return options in the wake of a mass information campaign conducted by UNHCR.
27 October 2004
Excited children were among the Liberian refugees who flocked to watch the UNHCR documentary, "Return to Liberia", in Sierra Leone's Jimmy Bagbo camp.

FREETOWN, Sierra Leone, Oct 27 (UNHCR) - The momentum is gathering for repatriation to Liberia, with the largest convoy to date leaving Sierra Leone's refugee camps today amid lively discussions generated by a UNHCR mass information campaign.

On Wednesday, 239 Liberian refugees embarked on a three-day journey home from Sierra Leone in the fourth and largest convoy since UNHCR started facilitating returns to Liberia on October 1. This convoy brings to 629 the total number of Liberian refugees who have repatriated from Sierra Leone with UNHCR under the programme.

This comes as the UN refugee agency completes a week-long campaign in eight camps throughout Sierra Leone to provide Liberian refugees with information to help them decide if they should repatriate now or wait until the situation back home improves further.

Under the campaign, refugees received UNHCR brochures written in a question-and-answer format. Going through the brochure line by line, staff explained issues related to repatriation and protection. This was followed by the screening of "Return to Liberia", a documentary produced by the agency and Talking Drum Studios, and a question-and-answer session.

The screening attracted huge crowds of all ages, packing the viewing centres to the brim and driving some people to climb on the roof to watch the documentary. Excitement buzzed in the air, especially among children who had been born in exile and were eager to catch their first glimpse of Liberia.

Morray Zuannah, a 30-year-old refugee in Bandajuma camp, was delighted to see images of Lofa county, his district of origin. "That returnee woman is speaking Krahn, my mother tongue!" he said, laughing and pointing to the television set. But his face fell when he saw how devastated his town was.

Lofa county is one of the districts that has not yet been declared safe for return. Zuannah has not made up his mind to go home. "If all goes well, I will repatriate next year," he said.

In addition to informing and showing the refugees their home conditions, the mass information campaign serves another important purpose - providing a forum for them to express themselves.

As if they were watching a live concert, the refugees applauded when the video showed UN peacekeepers deploying to Liberia's interior. Patricia Brown, a young refugee in Taiama camp, said she was impressed by the UNHCR-Peace Winds Japan shelter project for the most vulnerable returnees.

"I was particularly moved by the efforts made by UNHCR and UNMIL [UN Mission in Liberia] to access people in very remote areas despite the deplorable road conditions," she said.

Amara B. Washington, a refugee youth leader, was less optimistic. "From what I saw on the film, I realised that most of the towns and villages lay in ruins. Reconstruction projects are still in the beginning stages in most parts of the country. This means basic social services such as schools and hospitals are not yet available. I therefore prefer to wait until things get better," he said.

Varfee S. Tulay disagreed. "If we do not go home now, who is going to rebuild our country? Can we continue to wait in exile until everything is perfect before we return? Look at me going on the next convoy to Sinje," he told his camp mates, who laughed and applauded him.

The UN refugee agency is currently running the first phase of its voluntary repatriation operation to Liberia, facilitating the return of refugees who want to go home. It plans to promote returns more actively when the situation stabilises in Liberia in 2005. In all, it hopes to help some 340,000 Liberian refugees to return from the region over the next three years.

By Idrissa Conteh
UNHCR Sierra Leone