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Liberia: UN now encourages refugees to return home

Liberia: UN agency now encourages refugees to return home

With the return of stability to Liberia, the United Nations refugee agency announced today it is now actively encouraging the return of about 160,000 refugees spread through Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea, Nigeria and Sierra Leone and elsewhere.

Liberia’s progress in disarmament, security, human rights and other areas since the end of a brutal war prompted Antonio Guterres, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), to shift a voluntary repatriation programme that began in October 2004 from “facilitation” to “promotion.”

“After more than a quarter of a century of misrule, much still remains to be done to rebuild the country,” said UNHCR spokesman Ron Redmond at a press briefing in Geneva today. “Overall, the conditions are in place for refugees to return to their country in safety and dignity.”

A so-called “promotion” program means that UNHCR will not only help transport refugees who want to go home, but will also actually advocate for their return. That means there will be more information campaigns to update refugees on conditions in their homeland and they can even visit Liberia to see conditions for themselves. UNHCR will also organize visits to refugee settlements by prominent Liberians.

In a video for UNHCR that was 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.

Many of the refugees fled Liberia in 2000 to escape a brutal war that plagued the country during the rule of Charles Taylor. About 200,000 refugees have returned to Liberia since Taylor left the country in August 2003 and about 50,000 of those people returned with the help of UNHCR’s voluntary repatriation programme. The agency plans to bring about 100,000 Liberian refugees in West Africa back home this year.

So far, refugees have been heading home at an average rate of 250 a day. Upon arrival, they receive assistance packages consisting of household goods, allowance for travel within the country, free education and health care in the areas of return, as well as free access to communal structures and amenities built or rehabilitated with UHCR funds.

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