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Liberia: Largest refugee batch return since 2004

UN agency helps largest batch of refugees return home to Liberia since 2004

More than 550 refugees who fled Liberia’s brutal civil war arrived home over the past week – the largest batch since the UN refugee agency began its repatriation programme in the fall of 2004, and less than two weeks since Liberia’s newly elected president urged her countrymen to return.

It was the first glimpse of Liberia in several years for many of the 560 Liberians whom headed back to Lofa County on 21 January. This latest convoy from Sierra Leone boosted the number of refugees brought home by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and its partners since October 2004 to 6,559.

In a video for UNHCR recorded shortly before her 16 January inauguration, Liberia’s new president, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, pledged that her Government will work with the agency and its partners to help refugees settle in, find work and obtain basic services.

The president’s filmed message was part of a UNHCR mass information campaign for some 190,000 Liberian refugees scattered across West Africa.

Andrew Mayne, UNHCR deputy representative in Sierra Leone, said the large number of refugees in this latest convoy showed Liberians’ strong desire to go home. “UNHCR is committed to assisting those refugees who want to go back to Liberia to do so as soon as possible, both in safety and dignity,” he said.

Many of the refugees fled Liberia in 2000 to escape the brutal war that plagued the country during the rule of Charles Taylor. Sierra Leone has harboured more than 60,000 refugees and still hosts about 39,000 registered Liberian refugees in eight camps in the eastern and southern part of the country.

Poor road conditions forced the suspension of return operations between July and November 2005, but convoys resumed in late December and are now running each week.

Refugees are given food and supplies before departure and then given a cash grant when they arrive in Liberia so they can head to their final destination. Another two months of food assistance is provided to the returnees in Liberia and UNHCR operates programs to help the refugees integrate into their homeland. The establishment of a democratically elected Government in Liberia culminates the peace process envisaged in the Accra Comprehensive Peace Agreement of 18 August 2003. During this period, the UN peacekeeping mission in Liberia (UNMIL) supported national efforts to achieve the transition to democracy by providing a secure environment, disarming more than 100,000 ex-combatants, facilitating the return of tens of thousands of displaced persons and refugees, and helping organize the recent free and fair elections.

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