UN refugee agency concludes operation to repatriate Liberians forced into exile amid civil war
The United Nations refugee agency today announced that the last group of Liberians participating in its repatriation programme had returned to their country after having been forced into exile for many years due to the civil war that broke out in 1989 in the West African nation.
“The final 724 Liberians returned from Guinea on the last weekend of 2012, officially ending our return program that began a year after peace was restored in Liberia, in 2004,” the chief spokesperson for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNCHR), Melissa Fleming, told reporters in Geneva.
UNHCR helped 155,560 Liberian refugees return home, mainly by road convoys and flights, Ms. Fleming added.
Due to that restoration of peace and stability in the country, as of 30 June last year, the refugee status had ended for those who had fled the fighting there.
Liberia’s civil war lasted 14 years, ending in 2003. Some 750,000 civilians became either internally displaced or fled the country amidst the violence and instability. Some refugees spent more than two decades in countries such as Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea, Mali, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, and Gambia. Many have since returned with UNHCR help.
As part of the repatriation programme, each returning refugee received a small cash grant to help them restart their lives. Returnees are also receiving help from the Liberia Refugee Repatriation and Resettlement Commission to get jobs, including government positions for those with the required skills. The Commission also provides scholarships and assistance in acquiring land for construction of their homes.
Meanwhile, Liberia currently hosts nearly 67,000 Ivorian refugees who had to flee from violence in their own country. The majority of them sought refuge in Liberia during Cote d’Ivoire’s post-electoral crisis in 2010 and 2011.
According to Ms. Fleming, the voluntary repatriation of Ivorian refugees is also in progress although most have indicated they would like to stay in Liberia until stronger reconciliation processes are initiated in their country.