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260,000 Displaced Liberians To Their Homes

UN Begins Six-Month Drive To Return 260,000 Displaced Liberians To Their Homes

The first batch of 500 internally displaced persons (IDPs) and spontaneous returnees in Liberia have began their journey home, kicking off a six-month United Nations drive to settle more than 260,000 people uprooted by a decade and a half of civil war in the West African country.

“A new day is upon us, where those who sought immediate shelter and refuge in Liberia ‘s capital – far away from their communities and livelihood – are ready to reclaim their lives and embark on the journey home,” top UN envoy Jacques Paul Klein said yesterday, flagging off the convoy of trucks carrying the returnees.

“Yesterday’s dreams are today’s realities,” Mr. Klein, Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s Special Representative and Coordinator of UN Operations in Liberia, said, recalling the worst moments of the country’s civil strife when returning home seemed both an improbable and distant dream for those scattered inside and outside its borders.

This milestone in Liberia’s ongoing transition from conflict and destruction to a future of gradual recovery and rehabilitation paves the way for many others to follow and by April the UN High Commissioner for Refugees UNHCR) and its partners hope to help the 261,886 IDPs living in 20 camps near Monrovia, the capital, to go home.

A first airlift of 112 refugees left for Liberia today from Nigeria where 1,000 of the 6,000 refugees in the Oru camp have so far expressed interest in repatriating on the planned thrice-weekly flights. Land convoys from Guinea are scheduled to start tomorrow after a delay caused by sectarian violence unrest in Monrovia last week.

Since the start of UNHCR’s facilitated return programme last month, more than 800 refugees have returned from Sierra Leone and Ghana. Another 70,000 are estimated to have made their own way home since August last year. About 340,000 Liberian refugees are scattered around the region.

The UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) was set up just over a year ago to support the implementation of the ceasefire agreement that ended the protracted fighting between the government and several rebel forces. The chairman of the National Transitional Government of Liberia (NTGL), Charles Gyude Bryant, attended yesterday’s ceremony at the IDP camp in Perry Town, 30 kilometres from Monrovia.

Promising to visit the returnees in their homes Mr. Bryant said his government had been striving for the past nine months to make the countryside safe for the displaced population to return. The NTGL has declared six of Liberia’s 15 counties ready to receive the returnees.

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