High Commissioner to visit West Africa
High Commissioner for Refugees Ruud Lubbers is scheduled to start a six-day, four-nation mission to West Africa on Sunday 30 January to discuss refugee issues. West Africa, which in recent years has been mired in long-running civil wars producing hundreds of thousands of refugees in the region, is now at the centre of a huge repatriation movement as refugees return home.
Mr. Lubbers starts his mission in Guinea and then travels on to Sierra Leone, Liberia and Côte d'Ivoire, returning to Geneva on Saturday 5 February. During his visit, the High Commissioner is scheduled to meet heads of state, top government and UN officials in the region, refugees, returnees, UNHCR's implementing partners and staff. In Sierra Leone, on the second leg of his visit, Mr. Lubbers is expected to visit areas of the country where former Sierra Leone refugees have returned, seeing first-hand how they are faring. UNHCR's voluntary repatriation programme for Sierra Leonean refugees ended in mid-2004, with some 280,000 refugees electing to return home.
The High Commissioner will then travel across the border to Liberia, accompanying a convoy of Liberian refugees returning home. We launched our voluntary repatriation programme for Liberian refugees last October. An expected 340,000 refugees are expected to return home by the time the programme ends in 2007. Already, over 6,000 Liberians have returned from neighbouring West African countries on regular convoys by land and sea, and also by air.
The final leg of Mr. Lubbers' visit will be in neighbouring Côte d'Ivoire, which in November last year saw an outpouring of refugees into Liberia fleeing tensions. Some 10,000 were registered at the height of the crisis, which has now eased.