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UN refugee agency resumes repatriation of Liberian refugees by sea

UN refugee agency resumes repatriation of Liberian refugees by sea

After a five-month hiatus caused by a ship breakdown, the United Nations refugee agency has resumed repatriating Liberians by sea this week, sending more than 200 refugees back to their homeland from neighbouring Nigeria and Ghana.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) also charters commercial flights to aid Liberians returning home, as well as helping refugees repatriate by road, the agency’s spokesperson William Spindler told reporters in Geneva today.

Repatriation by sea had been on hold since last October given the malfunctioning of a chartered ship and the difficulty in finding another one.

The Panamanian ship Kikiaki 1 left Nigeria on 22 March with 167 Liberians on board, stopping in Ghana to pick up an additional 47 refugees before arriving in Monrovia on 24 March. There, all refugees were given assistance packages including four months worth of food rations and a transport allowance to their final destination within the country.

“We expect to repatriate some 60,000 refugees from the camps in the region before the end of the organized repatriation, scheduled for the end of June this year,” Mr. Spindler said.

Since the start of the organized voluntary repatriation scheme in October 2004, UNHCR has helped more than 94,000 Liberians return to their country and expects that number to grow to 100,000 by early May.

“With the end of the large-scale organized repatriation in sight, it is imperative to ensure that Liberian refugees wishing to return home have the opportunity to do so,” he said. “With the cut-off date just months away many are turning up to register for repatriation.”

There are over 104,000 Liberian refugees in West Africa, with more than 36,000 in Ghana, 26,000 in Côte d’Ivoire, 20,000 in Sierra Leone, 16,000 in Guinea, 5,000 in Nigeria and the rest in other countries in the region.