20 February 2014

Liberia: UN, Liberia in Extraditions Row

Photo: Glenna Gordon/UNHCR
An Ivorian refugee gets a lift on a motorbike taxi to the southeastern Liberian town of Zwedru (file photo).

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees or UNHCR has accused the Liberian Government of forcibly deporting some Ivorian refugees, it said are mercenaries.

Though security officials remain tight-lipped on the accusation, the UNCHR here, Khassim Diagne, told the BBC of an alleged "forced extradition" of 14 Ivorian refugees, among a group of 23 suspects wanted by the Ivorian authorities for alleged mercenary activities.

Early this month, at least 14 Ivorians were confirmed arrested in Liberia by security operatives over suspicion that they were being recruited as mercenaries by a French national only identified as Augustin to attack neighboring President Alassane Ouatara's government.

The Liberian security forces are alleged to have handed them over to their Ivorian counterparts over night, but security authorities in Liberia said they are not aware of the extraditions. Efforts to get comment from Liberia's Information Minister Lewis Brown failed, though this paper had called his number and send text messages.

The Spokesman for Liberia's Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization or BIN, Mr. Abraham Dolley said he could not speak to the issue of deportation of alleged Ivorian mercenaries as he too did not have the information at the time of the call.

Mr. Dolley, however, promised to call this paper on Thursday, February 20, upon contacting his boss at the BIN. Also, Police Spokesman Sam Collins referred this paper to Information Minister Lewis Brown saying "I don't have the information."

For his Part Mr. Amos Kollie, the Police county commander for River Gee, where the suspects were said authorities at Central Headquarters in Monrovia could comment on the matter.

Earlier on Sunday, February 16, Mr. Kollie had confirmed that Ivorians were being probed in River Gee County, but said he could not speak to the matter, referring this paper to the Police Spokesman. A source had said on Thursday February 13, that the alleged mercenaries' recruiter Augustin was arrested in Harper, Maryland County by securities.

There are claims that some of the refugees living in the four camps along the border with Ivory Coast have been involved in cross-border attacks and recruiting people to fight the government of Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara.

But Mr Diagne told the BBC "These are allegations and, of course, rumors; but none of this is being brought in front of a court of law and none of these people have been tried; no investigation has been carried".

According to UNHCR's information, he said the extradition happened "in the middle of the night" on Sunday into the early hours of Monday morning, the BBC said. A source in the area near the border town of Harper told the BBC that UNHCR's own ferry was used without permission to take the men over the Cavalla River.

"The biggest concern of UNHCR is that under refugee law, this is forcible return," Mr Diagne told the BBC.

"And these are registered refugees who were recognized by the government of Liberia, given protection and assistance for a number of years and all of a sudden sent back without the due process of law taking place," he concluded.

More than 52,000 Ivorian refugees were said to have fled to Liberia following the violent 2011 election dispute which ended in the arrest of former President Laurent Gbagbo.

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