UNiFeed, 21 Dec 2015

The governments of Liberia, Cote d’Ivoire and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) resumed Friday (18 Dec) the voluntary repatriation of tens of thousands of Ivorian refugees from Liberia, which had been interrupted for more than a year by the deadly Ebola outbreak.

Some 11,000 of the remaining 38,000 Ivorian refugees in Liberian camps have said they wish to return immediately.

A convoy, carrying 244 people, set off from the coastal town of Harper, in eastern Liberia, for Tabou, in south-western Côte d'Ivoire, taking a ferry to cross the river border.

A second convoy, carrying 401 people, left PTP camp in Grand Gedeh County for Toulepleu in south-western Côte d’Ivoire.

Two more convoys are planned for later this month, bringing the total number of returnees by year’s end to more than 1,000 people. The convoys will pass along special humanitarian corridors because the borders currently remain closed. The returns will continue next January, with road repairs planned to improve access.

Upon arrival in Tabou and Toulelpeu, the returnees spend a day in transit centres, where they will be given a hot meal and undergo medical screening, including for Ebola. An awareness campaign aimed at reducing the risk of Ebola-related discrimination and stigmatization will be conducted in the communities where they will be returning.

Before they are taken back to their towns or villages, the returnees are given food rations for three months by the World Food Programme (WFP), kitchen utensils, mattresses, mosquito nets and other basic aid items by UNHCR to help them rebuild their lives.

UNHCR is helping the returnees reintegrate in their homeland, with income-generation programmes, training and start-up aid. The Côte d'Ivoire government has put in place a number of programmes to help the returnees regain access to their lands and for children to get access to education.

The voluntary repatriation of Ivorian refugees started in late 2012. While UNHCR facilitated the return of some 40,000 refugees from Liberia, an additional 160,000 are believed to have returned on their own.

The outbreak of Ebola in West Africa last year caused the closure of the land border between Côte d'Ivoire and neighbouring Liberia and Guinea, thus forcing UNHCR and its partners to suspend the repatriation operation in July 2014.