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Liberians Head Home From Guinea

Refugee Returns Gain Momentum As Liberians Head Home From Guinea – UN

The return of refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) to their homes in Liberia is set to get a boost in momentum when the first convoy of returnees from Guinea arrives over the weekend, the United Nations refugee agency said today.

The convoy carrying 193 people from Guinea – the largest country of asylum for Liberians in West Africa – is scheduled to arrive tomorrow in Bong County in the north, nearly a month after the UN High Commissioner for Refugees UNHCR) started voluntary repatriation to the war-ravaged country, Ron Redmond, a spokesman for the agency, said in Geneva.

At the beginning of the year Guinea was sheltering some 149,000 Liberians who fled during their country’s 14-year civil war. Several thousand refugees have since opted to return using their own means.

The returnees will be welcomed at the Liberian border by local authorities and UNHCR before continuing to the nearby transit centre, where they will receive a hot meal, medical screening, a food package to last two months, and supplies to help them start up their new lives.

After a night at the centre, the returnees will then be transported to their final destination or drop-off point in Bong County, one of the six counties in Liberia declared safe for refugee and IDP returns. A battalion of Bangladeshi troops from the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) will increase patrols in villages of return in the county.

Since UNHCR’s facilitated repatriation began on 1 October, more than 500 refugees have returned home on land convoys from Sierra Leone and by airlift from Ghana. “We are expecting the pace to pick up in the months ahead of the elections scheduled in October 2005,” Mr. Redmond said, adding that the agency is encouraging the Liberian National Electoral Commission to enfranchise as many returnees and IDPs as possible before the 15 April 2005 deadline for voter registration.

Meanwhile on Monday, UNHCR and other UN agencies are planning to start the first phase of the voluntary relocation of internally some 261,000 displaced people currently located in 20 camps around the Liberian capital of Monrovia to counties declared safe, according to Mr. Redmond.

Some 500 IDPs, including 200 refugees who had returned on their own accord last year from Sierra Leone but were unable to travel to their areas of origin because they were unsafe will be on the first convoy.

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