UNHCR completes repatriation of 155,000 Liberians
Sulaiman Momodu in Monrovia, 04 Jan 2013
MONROVIA, Liberia, January 4 (UNHCR) – The UN refugee agency has
completed its successful repatriation of more than 155,000 Liberians, 23 years
after the start of the civil war in their homeland that made them into refugees.
The final 724 Liberians were helped home from Guinea on the last weekend of
2012, officially ending a programme that began in 2004, a year after peace was
restored in the West African nation. As of 1 January, UNHCR says there will be
no more organized voluntary repatriation for Liberians.
During Liberia's civil war, which broke out in December 1989, some 750,000
civilians became either internally displaced or refugees. Some refugees spent
more than two decades in countries such as Côte d'Ivoire, the Gambia, Ghana,
Guinea, Mali, Nigeria, Sierra Leone and Togo.
Peace was restored in 2003 with the deployment of UN peacekeepers and last
June Liberians who had fled the fighting for other countries ceased to be
considered refugees. Since 2004, UNHCR had facilitated the voluntary
repatriation of 155,560 Liberian refugees, mainly by road convoys and flights.
"What happened on 30 June, 2012 was the end of refugee status for Liberians.
What is now happening is the end of voluntary repatriation of thousands of
refugees who had registered to return home," said UNHCR Representative in
Liberia Cosmas Chanda. He called it a remarkable achievement for
humanitarian assistance and evidence of the restoration of peace and stability
"In 2012, we facilitated the return of about 29,380 Liberian refugees,
exceeding our initial planning figure of 15,000," said Chanda. "We are thankful
to everybody for this accomplishment, including donors for their support and to
refugees for embracing the voluntary repatriation process."
UNHCR paid each refugee above 18 years old US$375 to defray reintegration
and transportation expenses to their final destination. Each refugee below 18
years received US$275.
"I am going to use the money I receive to start up a small sailing business to
support my family's fishing activities," said Oretha, a 20-year-old mother of four
who was too young to remember when her grandmother brought her to Côte
d'Ivoire to escape the war. She was among 600 Liberians in the last convoys to
arrive from Côte d'Ivoire on December 20.
In a video message, Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf had encouraged
her compatriots to return home when their refugee status ended on June 30
last year and contribute to the development of the country.
The Liberia Refugee Repatriation and Resettlement Commission (LRRRC) is
assisting returnees by referring them to job opportunities, providing
scholarships, collaborating with government ministries to absorb returnees with
specific skills, and assisting each refugee family to acquire a plot of land for
"Our doors are open to any returnee who needs our guidance," said the
executive director of the LRRRC, Wheatonia Y. Dixon Barnes. Most returnees
were accompanied by grown children born during years in exile and have
expressed hope that they will never again become refugees.
UNHCR and LRRRC officials say Liberian refugees who decided to locally
integrate in countries of asylum are being provided legal and social assistance,
such as income-generating activities for self-reliance and the issuance of
Liberian passports in collaboration with Liberia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Meanwhile, Liberia hosts nearly 67,000 Ivorian refugees who had to flee their
own country. The facilitated voluntary repatriation of Ivorian refugees is also in
progress although most have indicated they would like to stay in Liberia until
stronger reconciliation processes are initiated in their country.