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Liberia: New president encourages return

Briefing notes

Liberia: New president encourages return

17 January 2006

Liberia's new president, Ms. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, has urged tens of thousands of Liberian refugees to consider returning home now to join in the rebuilding of their country.

In a video for UNHCR recorded shortly before her swearing-in yesterday, Ms. Johnson-Sirleaf assured Liberians still outside their country that their government wants them home. She pledged that her government would work with UNHCR and other partners to reintegrate them into their communities, to identify employment opportunities, and to help them obtain those basic services that will enable them to resume a normal life.

The president's filmed message will be part of a UNHCR mass information campaign for some 190,000 Liberian refugees scattered across West Africa.

Many have been watching the political process in their homeland closely in order to decide whether and when to go home. For many, last November's peaceful elections were a sign that after 14 years of unrest and violence Liberia is back on the road to peace and stability.

UNHCR and its partners are now preparing to accelerate the repatriation process to take advantage of the better road conditions during the dry season, which lasts from November to June. But the success of the repatriation depends less on logistics than on long-term development programmes to sustain Liberia's recovery. President Johnson-Sirleaf acknowledged that many refugees are worried about not being able to find a home or a job upon their return.

In the UNHCR video message, she tells the refugees that she understands their apprehensions, which include security, a shortage of housing and basic services such as schools and clinics; land disputes and a lack of economic opportunities.

Even so, President Johnson-Sirleaf strongly encourages the Liberian refugees to come home. She says her new government will take all the necessary steps to help those coming home after years in exile, and pledges to work with UNHCR and others to create a viable environment so that returning refugees and internally displaced persons can live peacefully.

At the height of the Liberian conflict, some 850,000 people had been displaced by unrest and violence - half a million of them within Liberia, the rest scattered around West Africa. Since the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in 2003, half a million people have gone back to their home communities, including around 200,000 refugees and 300,000 internally displaced persons.

As more refugees are expected to come home in the months to come, reintegration and reconstruction remain key priorities. UNHCR will continue to carry out community projects, including projects to repair shelters, roads, water points, schools and clinics. Returnees themselves play a leading role in the repair works, and the projects help provide them with much-needed jobs.

President Johnson-Sirleaf, who describes the task of rebuilding Liberia as enormous, also appeals for the continuing support of the international community.