The Analyst (Monrovia)

Liberian Refugees Repatriation Ends

The voluntary repatriation of Liberian refugees officially ended December 31, 2012 after 23 years since civil war broke out in Liberia forcing thousands of Liberians to become refugees. Over the weekend, the last batch of 724 Liberian refugees returned from Guinea.

As of 1 January 2013, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) says there would be no more organized voluntary repatriation for Liberians who fled during the country's civil war from 1989 – 2003 to seek refuge in other countries.

The UNHCR in collaboration with the Government of Liberia, countries of asylum and partners commenced the voluntary repatriation of Liberian refugees in 2004 following the restoration of peace in 2003. Since 2004, the UNHCR has facilitated the voluntary repatriation of some 155,560 Liberian refugees mainly by organizing road convoys and by flights. Some refugees had spent more than two decades in refuge in countries such as Côte d'Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea, Mali, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Togo and The Gambia. Most returnees have expressed hope that they will never have cause to run away from their country again and become refugees.

"In this year alone, we facilitated the voluntary repatriation of about 29,380 Liberian refugees. This figure exceeded our planning figure of 15,000 individuals for 2012. This is extraordinary," remarked the UNHCR Deputy Representative, Robert Tibagwa, expressing delight that Liberians overwhelmingly decided to return home. UNHCR paid each refugee adult above 18 years US$375 to defray reintegration and transportation expenses to their final destination. Each refugee below 18 years received US$ 275.

The Liberia Refugee Repatriation and Resettlement Commission is assisting returnees by referring them to job opportunities, providing scholarships, and collaborating with government ministries to absorb returnees with specific skills. "We also assist any returnee family that requests a plot of land for building purposes to acquire it free of charge outside Montserrado County," said the Executive Director of the LRRRC, Cllr. Wheatonia Y. Dixon Barnes. UNHCR and LRRRC officials say Liberian refugees who had decided to locally integrate in countries of asylum are being provided legal and social assistance such as the issuance of Liberian passports in collaboration with Liberia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs and with support for income generating activities for self-reliance.

UNHCR officials have expressed profound gratitude to countries of asylum for hosting Liberian refugees over the years and to donors for their support to the repatriation process, describing it as a remarkable achievement for humanitarian assistance and an indicator of the restoration of peace and stability in Liberia. A few years ago, the voluntary repatriation of Sierra Leonean refugees also ended.

Meanwhile, Liberia currently hosts nearly 67,000 Ivorian refugees most of whom are living in refugee camps in Grand Gedeh, Nimba and Maryland Counties. The facilitated voluntary repatriation of Ivorian refugees is also in progress although most of the refugees had indicated that they would like to stay in Liberia a bit longer, until genuine reconciliation processes are initiated in their country.

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