New president appeals for refugees to return to Liberia
GENEVA, 16 Jan (UNHCR) - In a video recorded for UNHCR shortly before her swearing-in on Monday, the Liberian president appealed to hundreds of thousands of Liberian refugees in West Africa to return and take part in their country's rebuilding.
"Please be assured," Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf said, "that your government wants you home. It will work with you to resettle you in your community, identify employment opportunities, help you obtain those basic services that will enable you to live a normal life. Your other compatriots await you to join hands with them in the rebuilding of our nation."
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.
"Being away from home for so long, we understand you have apprehensions, fears and concerns which include security, shortage of shelters and basic services such as schools, health clinics, repossession of land and economic opportunities, to name but a few," she said.
Nevertheless, the new president strongly encouraged Liberian refugees to come home. She said her new government would take all the necessary steps to help those returning after years out of the country.
"It is our desire," she said, "to work along with UNHCR and other humanitarian partners to create a viable environment for returning refugees and IDPs [internally displaced persons] to cohabit peacefully with combatants and receiving communities."
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 described the task of rebuilding Liberia as enormous, has appealed for the continuing support of the international community.
"Considering the logistical challenges existing in Liberia there is a need for donor support to enable UNHCR to facilitate the immediate reintegration of returnees in their communities," she said. However, she insisted that the responsibility for rebuilding Liberia ultimately lay with the Liberian people themselves.
"The input of every Liberian is very essential," she said. "We have to take the first step before we can solicit outside help. That is why I am making this appeal to each and everyone of you on behalf of the new government to return home and join the effort in the rebuilding and renewal of our country so that once again we can stand out in the community of nations."