About 3000 Ivorian refugees who recently underwent local integration in Bahn, Nimba County, have received guaranteed and durable housing units to live in while they are still in Liberia.
On Wednesday, September 11, 2019, hundreds of residents of Bahn, its surrounding towns, and several other residents of Nimba, as well as personnel of both the Liberia Refugee Repatriation and Resettlement Commission (LRRRC) and the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), witnessed the refugees receiving the newly completed housing units with delight.
The Minister of Internal Affairs, Varney A. Sirleaf, told the Ivorian refugees that Liberia is on the right trajectory with refugees still dwelling in its borders.
"I am of the belief that what we are now doing here for the Ivorian refugees is the first of its kind. I mean, to provide them, through funding from the UNHCR, guaranteed and long lasting houses, is only unique to our country, not anywhere else in our sub-region or beyond," Sirleaf boasted.
He said the Bahn refugee camp is just one of the number of camps in the country the government, through the LRRRC and the UNHCR, will elevate to much more decent homes for refugees who are already integrated.
"We have PDP and Little Wlegbo camps. With the UNHCR's support, as well other supports from our various partners, we will do more and better together," he added.
According to Sirleaf, by the people of Bahn and by extension, the whole of Nimba accepting to coexist peacefully and mutually with the Ivorian refugees only demonstrates how sincere, loving and hospitable Liberians are.
"The Tuazama family and all other families who willingly gave out to the LRRRC the 315 acres of land are great and distinguished people. Their action and the commitment of the entire community in this part of Nimba to mutually live with our brothers and sisters from Ivory Coast is a great testament that we are true human beings who care so much for and about how people of different backgrounds should also live in peace and happily," Sirleaf noted.
He meanwhile admonished the locally integrated Ivorian Refugees to obey the laws of the country, including the local roles and policies of their host community.
"Please respect your stranger fathers, brothers and sisters as they, too, respect you. Do not build any other house besides any of these units unless you are permitted to do so through a careful completion of meeting all of the requirements set by the LRRRC and the local leadership here. Clean the place and repair these houses because they are now yours," he said.
Sirleaf encouraged the refugees to raise up their own living standards by using part of the 315 acres of land for farming or gardening.
Internal Affairs Minister, Varney A. Sirleaf turns over to one of the Ivorian refugees, keys to a new house as the UNHCR country director (rear), the LRRRC boss Logan , and others look on.
"I was the designated Minister who went to Ivory Coast with your President, Alassane Outtara. When asked me about your conditions here, I was very comfortable in sharing with him all of what is taking place here in your interest and your own commitment to being good people too." he explained. "President Outtara told me to inform you that Ivory Coast is safe and you are at liberty to go back home at any time you wish to."
He added: "To the local authorities, residents in general, we are grateful to you for demonstrating in true sense the highest coexistence in the country."
Sirleaf acknowledged that Liberians were hosted as refugees in Ivory coast and other countries around the world and, even after the series of civil conflicts in Liberia, a number of them chose to remain in those parts of the world and become integrated.
The Internal Affairs Minister is the chairman of the board of directors of the Liberia Refugee Repatriation and Resettlement Commission (LRRRC).
The executive director of the LRRRC, Festus Logan, said the housing units built for the integrated Ivorian refugees are a prototype of the rural housing units undergoing construction in the Southeast and other parts of the country by the order of President George Weah.
"When I was opportune to have audience with President Weah, I conveyed to him the need for us to build, for the locally integrated Ivorian refugees, more guaranteed and durable houses rather than building for them structures that may collapse in a short while," Logan said.
He noted that President Weah welcomed the idea and instructed that the houses be built similar to those the Liberia Agency for Community Empowerment (LACE) is building for many rural dwellers in the Southeast and by extension, other parts of the country to follow.
"Liberia is today praised for the hospitality extended all strangers, including refugees," he boasted, adding: "What you see here today is not common in any other part of the world."
The housing units here are of the same design as those being built by LACE for rural dwellers. By the order of our President, and with full support from our traditional partner, the UNHCR, we are using cement all through this project and others to follow. Each unit has a dining room, a sitting room, two bedrooms and a bathroom," Logan explained. "We look at you as citizens."
He joined Internal Affairs Minister Sirleaf in admonishing the integrated refugees to live in harmony with their hosts (the people of Bahn).
"We want unity. I mean true social cohesion between you and all other residents in this place," Logan admonished the refugees.
He noted further that the refugees are responsible to take care of the houses they now owned.
In his capacity as chairman and spokesperson for the Bahn refugee camp, Mr. Doumbia Mussa thanked the LRRRC and the UNHCR for the units and assured them of his people's commitment to do whatever is right in accordance with the laws of Liberia to maintain them (houses).
"It was worrisome that we could have molded our own bricks, particular with mud for the project, but thank God the instrumentality of the LRRRC executive director helped ease this tension by the work we are seeing here today," Mussa said in French, through an interpreter.
He meanwhile called on the LRRRC and the UNHCR to see reason and help them get connected to the regional electricity supply currently being used by many residents in that part of the country.
"We are appealing to you to kindly help us with more medicines and other health products in order for the clinic serving us here to be effective," he appealed.
Railey Myers, Development Superintendent of Nimba, thanked the LRRRC and the UNHCR for the job done.
"The Superintendent, D. Dorr Cooper, is not here due to some other busy schedule but he has asked me to say thank you, the LRRRC and UNHCR, for the building of these houses. He also asked me to thank the people of Bahn, mainly the Tuazama family, for their generous giving of the land for the construction of these units," Myers said, noting that Nimba is noted for embracing strangers.
Earlier speaking, the country director of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNCHR), Zulqarnain Hussain Anjum, said he is proud of Liberia because it has proven to the world that it is a very generous country, even in times of difficulties.
"Today constitutes one of the milestones of the local integration of Ivorian refugees in Liberia. At UNHCR, we believe that Liberia provides one of the most favorable protection environments for refugees in Africa, and the country has proven us right. Through mutual cooperation with the LRRRC, we are far ahead with the local integration of those unable or unwilling to return to Cote d'Ivoire," Anjum said.
He said the LRRRC championed the designing of a strategy to locally integrate all refugees residing in the country.
"It was in Liberia here last year that President Weah handed over to Sierra Leoneans certificates of citizenship after they naturalized and took on the Liberian citizenship. They are now locally integrated and are equally enjoying equal rights and privileges every Liberian has," he said, telling the Ivorian refugees that same can be done for them if they wish.
"Cote d'Ivoire is your home. We believe it is safe to return if you wish. Those returning on a voluntary basis will continue will continue to receive the return package to restart their lives back home in safety and dignity," Anjum said.
The cost to build all of the first 100 units targeted is US$13,000,000 and of the 100 units, 13 are completed and turned over to a number of Ivorian refugees while 70 others are still being built for use by those who have not received theirs.