Largest convoy of Liberian refugees head for home - UN

27 October 2004

Whether buoyed or shaken by what they have learnt about the damage to their districts during 14 years of civil war, the largest convoy of Liberian refugees today started a United Nations-organized road trip home from Sierra Leone, becoming the fourth group among the 340,000 of their countrymen in West African camps to make the journey so far.

Before they boarded transport for three days of travel, advisers from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) helped them think through the issues involved in repatriation and how to protect themselves.

Having even more impact was the screening of a documentary co-produced by UNHCR and Search for Common Ground/Talking Drum Studio called "Return to Liberia," which showed the conditions in some parts of the country.

The devastation discouraged some viewers. Morray Zuannah, 30, looked at his native Lofa County and decided to take the UN's judgement seriously when it said the county was not yet safe enough for his return. "If all goes well, I will repatriate next year."

Refugee youth leader Amara Washington drew similar conclusions. "From what I saw on the film, I realized that most of the towns and villages lay in ruins. Reconstruction projects are still in the beginning stages in most parts of the country. This means basic social services, such as schools and hospitals, are not yet available. I therefore prefer to wait until things get better."

The stout of heart disagreed. "If we do not go home now, who is going to rebuild our country? Can we continue to wait in exile until everything is perfect before we return? Look at me going on the next convoy to Sinje," Varfee Tulay said to applause.

UNHCR said it would promote repatriation more actively next year when the situation had stabilized.


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