10 September 2013

Liberia's Oldest Refugee Camp Downgraded

After 10 years of existence, Liberia's oldest refugee camp that once hosted hundreds of Ivorian refugees has been downgraded. The Saclepea Refugee Camp in Nimba County was changed from a refugee camp to a settlement over the weekend when the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), in collaboration with the Liberia Refugee Repatriation and Resettlement Commission (LRRRC), facilitated the relocation of the last batch of 124 refugees from the camp to Bahn Refugee Camp in the same county.

Saclepea Refugee Camp was established in January 2003 when some 30,000 Ivorians fled to seek refuge in Liberia in the wake of conflict in Côte d'Ivoire in September 2002 involving armed men. The Ivorians fled to Liberia and were mostly living in communities at a time when the country was also in the throes of a civil crisis.

Following the restoration of relative calm in Côte d'Ivoire, most of the refugees returned home, but others remained in the country including more than 1,100 of them who stayed at the Saclepea Refugee Camp where the LRRRC assisted in the acquisition of 250 acres of land that enabled them engage in agricultural and income generating activities including a UNHCR-funded snail farming project.

UNHCR and LRRRC officials said plans were underway to voluntarily repatriate the refugees after the 2010 presidential elections in Côte d'Ivoire, but post-electoral violence broke out forcing new waves of Ivorians to flee to Liberia.

"Some refugees who had planned to return home changed their minds when conflict broke out again," said UNHCR Deputy Representative Robert Tibagwa, adding that Saclepea Refugee Camp has been downgraded as part of efforts to have fewer refugee camps in the country in line with the policy of the Government of Liberia.

"The 1,029 refugees relocated to Bahn camp will receive humanitarian services such as regular food supply and medical care. About 80 individuals remaining in the settlement are refugees that have locally integrated over the years. Some are married to Liberians," said Tibagwa.

Liberia currently hosts more than 58, 700 Ivorian refugees most of whom are living in four refugee camps established in 2010 and 2011 as the UN refugee agency focus on voluntary repatriation. So far this year, more than 11,100 refugees have been assisted to return home mainly by road convoys.

Meanwhile, for refugees who have indicated that they would like to stay a bit longer in Liberia, they are being encouraged to become more self-reliant. Some days ago, the new UNHCR Representative, Khassim Diagne, gave the refugees some agricultural tools and applauded their involvement in agricultural and income generating activities.

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