The last batch of Liberian refugees in Ghana who opted for voluntary repatriation to Liberia have left Ghana for Liberia on Saturday on board an UNMIL flight.
This last batch, 80 in number, brings to a close the organized repatriation movements of Liberian refugees living in Ghana, which was facilitated by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNCHR), the Ghana Refugee Board, United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM).
Figures from the UNHCR show that there have been 68 flights this year out of which 18 were chartered and which has successfully moved 4, 642 refugees; exceeding the initial target of 3, 894.
These were those who, after the invocation of the cessation clause for Liberian refugees in June 2012, chose and registered to be voluntarily repatriated, following an educational exercise at the Buduburam and Kristan settlements on the options available to them: voluntary repatriation and local integration.
Madam Sharon Cooper, UNHCR Country Representative, noted that there had been two successful elections in Liberia since the end of the war and the economy was improving, thus providing a lot of prospects for Liberian nationals especially to return to the country and to help in its development.
She stated that although most of the returnees have family or some connections back home, they are given a small grant to help ease their reintegration saying those who do not have family would have community support from communities back in Liberia and networks established at the camps in Ghana to help in their reintegration.
Madam Cooper said the UNHCR and its partners including the Liberian government had a reintegration program in place with monitoring mechanisms to ensure the smooth transition of the returnees into society in Liberia.
On what the next step was after the repatriation, Madam Cooper noted that the UNHCR would now focus on those refugees who had chosen to be locally integrated. She the first step liaise with the government of Ghana to first change their status as refugees to residents, adding that this was expected to be done in the next few months.
Ms. Dyane Epstein, Chief of Mission of IOM, said her organization had worked with the UNHCR on the voluntary repatriations, providing among other services, health assessments and immunizations, luggage handling, check-in assistance, transportation from the camps to the airport, food and accommodation for a night in Liberia and transportation to their destinations in Liberia.
She noted that the collaboration between the UNHCR, IOM, GRB and the other agencies had been excellent one adding that they not faced any challenges in the repatriation processes.
The IOM also undertakes activities in migration in other countries, child trafficking among others. Most of the refugees, in interviews with the GNA, expressed joy to be returning to their homelands, having been away for so long.
Maurice Gibson stated that it was a great feeling to be returning home after living as refugee in Ghana for about 10 years. He said even though Ghanaians are magnificent people who had been wonderful to them during their stay here, it was difficult living in exile and he was thus very happy to be going home. He said most of his family had returned a month before and he was looking forward to joining them and restructuring his life.
25 year-old, Clarice, who came to Ghana when she was 15 years old, said she was happy to be going home to Liberia, adding that she wanted to go back to school and get employment in Liberia.
Veronica, another refugee said she had been in Ghana for about seven years. She described her stay in Ghana as an experience which was sometimes good and sometimes bad. She noted that she had a lot of expectations but would have to wait to see the situation when she gets back to Liberia.
"I am prepared to face the challenges back home and I hope I can contribute to the development of my country with my skills as a Professional Accountant, Caterer and Decorator. I will definitely come to Ghana again as I have friends and family here" She said.