Liberia repatriation to end this weekend
After two and a half years, UNHCR will end tomorrow (June 30) its repatriation programme for Liberian refugees. Launched in October 2004, the UNHCR operation helped repatriate more than 105.000 refugees, mostly from Guinea, Côte d'Ivoire, Sierra Leone, Ghana and Nigeria. The Liberian repatriation has been one of the largest UNHCR operations in Africa in recent years. Its completion marks the end of an era of large repatriation operations in the West African region.
The last repatriation convoy, transporting 550 Liberians, departed yesterday (Thursday), from Kouankan camp in the Nzérékoré area of in eastern Guinea. The convoy travelled by road to the Lofa County in the neighbouring Liberia.
Between 1989 and 2003, more than 350,000 Liberian refugees fled the civil war raging in their country. The fighting and violence left an estimated 200,000 dead, over 800,000 internally displaced, and devastated the country's infrastructure and economy.
To date, more than 150,000 refugees have returned to Liberia. In addition to over 100,000 returns assisted by UNHCR, half of which came from the neighbouring Guinea, some 50,000 registered Liberian refugees returned home on their own. They were encouraged by the restoration of peace and inauguration of the democratically elected president and government.
In Liberia, UNHCR has been also involved in the return of some 326,000 internally displaced persons to their areas of origin. This programme was successfully completed in April 2006. Internally displaced Liberians had been living in camps, mainly around the capital, Monrovia.
This success story was possible because of the unambiguous wish of the Liberian refugees to return, the commitment of the Liberian government to bring its people back home, the efforts of UNHCR and other partners and the support of all countries in the West African region.
The Liberian repatriation has been demanding logistical operation involving returns by air, sea and road from all the neighbouring countries and the region. Upon arrival, refugees have been provided with a transportation grant, food and a number of household items. Reintegration and improvement of livelihoods for returnees have been long-term key priorities for us. We and our partners have been repairing shelters, roads, water wells, schools and clinics, as well as providing vocational training programmes, which in turn, have been helping to secure much-needed jobs in the community.
As the next step, after the end of organised repatriation, we are preparing, together with the countries still hosting thousands of Liberian refugees, to start a number of long-term projects aimed at achieving their local integration. The purpose of these projects will be to bring the main displacement chapter in West African region to a genuine and successful closure.
There are still some 80.000 Liberian refugees in West Africa. More than 23,000 remain in Ghana, 22,000 in Côte d'Ivoire, 13,000 in Sierra Leone, 14,000 in Guinea, some 5,000 in Nigeria, and the rest are scattered in other countries of the region.