Ivorian refugee repatriation from Liberia this year tops 10,000 mark

News Stories, 30 July 2013

© UNHCR/Liberia
Ivorian returnees wear lifejackets for the crossing of the Cavalla River on a UNHCR-chartered barge.

MONROVIA, Liberia, July 30 (UNHCR) More than 10,000 Ivorians have returned home so far this year from Liberia with UNHCR help, almost double the figure for the whole of last year.

The landmark was passed late last week. The refugees, mostly living in camps and communities in Grand Gedeh, Nimba, Maryland and River Gee counties in Liberia, have returned to areas such as Toulepleu, Tabou and Danane in western Côte d'Ivoire.

The UN refugee agency, in collaboration with the Liberia Refugee Repatriation and Resettlement Commission and other partners, has been organizing road convoys for those wishing to return more than two years after fleeing post-election violence in Côte d'Ivoire. Those heading back from Maryland County cross the Cavalla River to Côte d'Ivoire on a barge operated by UNHCR.

"Last year, we facilitated the repatriation of more than 6,000 refugees. For this year, our planning figure is to facilitate the repatriation of 16,000 refugees," said UNHCR Officer-in-Charge Andrew Mbogori, thanking donors for supporting the repatriation efforts.

"With 10,000 refugees repatriated over the past seven months, notwithstanding border security concerns a few months ago, we are definitely on track to attain our target," he added.

Over the past year, the repatriation of Ivorian refugees had been interrupted by attacks on villages on the Ivorian side of the border and the killing of seven UN peacekeepers in June last year. "We welcome the improvement in border security, which is encouraging more refugees to return, and we hope the security situation will continue to improve," remarked Mbogori.

Many of those crossing the border at the Cavalla River stressed that the improved security had been a major factor in their decision to return. "Now that security has improved in my country, I am happy to be returning to Tabou region to maintain my cocoa plantation, which is my main source of income," said Pierre, a father of five, as he crossed into Côte d'Ivoire, the word's largest cocoa-producing country.

Other refugees are returning to continue their education back home. "I was at a university in Abidjan which closed in 2011 as a result of the post-election violence [from November 2010 to April 2011]. Now that it has reopened and there is peace in our capital, I am happy to go back and continue my education," said 25-year-old Gnato.

Deteriorating road conditions with seasonal rains are, however, new challenges to the repatriation process. "We are engaged in road rehabilitation activities, as well as working with partners such as the UN Mission in Liberia engineers to keep roads open. As long as we have refugees willing to return home, we want to ensure that we assist them to do so in safety and in dignity," said UNHCR official Fatima Mohammed.

Upon return to Côte d'Ivoire, former refugees receive a cash grant, food and non-food items. Liberia currently hosts more than 58,000 Ivorian refugees.

The Côte d'Ivoire crisis began after the presidential election of November 2010, which pitted incumbent Laurent Gbagbo against Alassane Ouattara. Fighting caused widespread displacement and at the peak more than 220,000 Ivorian had fled to Liberia. Most returned home on their own after election winner Ouattara gained power. A repatriation operation was launched late that year, gaining steam in 2012.

By Sulaiman Momodu in Monrovia, Liberia




UNHCR country pages


UNHCR works with the country of origin and host countries to help refugees return home.

Liberia: Return, Reintegration, Rehabilitation and Reconstruction

Colombia's armed conflict has forced millions of people to flee their homes, including hundreds of thousands who have sought refuge in other countries in the region.

Along the border with Colombia, Panama's Darien region is a thick and inhospitable jungle accessible only by boat. Yet many Colombians have taken refuge here after fleeing the irregular armed groups who control large parts of jungle territory on the other side of the border.

Many of the families sheltering in the Darien are from Colombia's ethnic minorities – indigenous or Afro-Colombians – who have been particularly badly hit by the conflict and forcibly displaced in large numbers. In recent years, there has also been an increase in the numbers of Colombians arriving in the capital, Panama City.

There are an estimated 12,500 Colombians of concern to UNHCR in Panama, but many prefer not to make themselves known to authorities and remain in hiding. This "hidden population" is one of the biggest challenges facing UNHCR not only in Panama but also in Ecuador and Venezuela.

Liberia: Return, Reintegration, Rehabilitation and Reconstruction

Sierra Leone: Last Return Convoy from Liberia

On July 21, 2004, the final UNHCR convoy from Liberia crossed over the Mano River bridge into Sierra Leone with 286 returnees. This convoy included the last of some 280,000 refugees returning home after Sierra Leone's brutal 10-year civil war which ended in 2000. Overall, since repatriation began in 2001, UNHCR has helped some 178,000 refugees return home, with a further 92,000 returning spontaneously, without transport assistance from UNHCR.

UNHCR provided returnees with food rations and various non-food items, including jerry cans, blankets, sleeping mats, soap and agricultural tools in order to help them establish their new lives in communities of origin. To promote integration of newly arrived returnees, UNHCR has implemented some 1,000 community empowerment projects nationwide. Programmes include the building and rehabilitation of schools, clinics, water and sanitation facilities, as well as micro-credit schemes and skills training.

UNHCR and its partners, alongside the UN country team and the government, will continue to assist the reintegration of returnees through the end of 2005.

Sierra Leone: Last Return Convoy from Liberia

Refugees move to new camp in Liberia

UNHCR has begun transferring refugees from Côte d'Ivoire to a new refugee camp in the north-eastern Liberian town of Bahn. Over the coming weeks UNHCR hopes to move up to 15,000 refugees into the facility, which has been carved out of the jungle. They are among almost 40,000 civilians from Côte d'Ivoire who have fled to escape mounting political tension in their country since the presidential election in late November.

The final number of people to move to Bahn will depend on how many wish to be relocated.from villages near the Liberia-Côte d'Ivoire border. Initially most of the refugees were taken in by host communities, living side-by-side with locals. Poor road conditions made it difficult for humanitarian agencies to deliver assistance. Supplies of food, medicine and water have been running low, making conditions difficult for both locals and refugees.

At the camp in Bahn, refugees will have easy access to basic services such as health care, clean water and primary school education.

Refugees move to new camp in Liberia

Liberia: A Neighbour's HelpPlay video

Liberia: A Neighbour's Help

Alphonse Gonglegbe fled to Liberia with his family a few months ago. He appreciates the help he's been receiving in this land neighbouring his native Côte d'Ivoire.
Liberia: Hurried FlightPlay video

Liberia: Hurried Flight

Tens of thousands of Ivorians have fled their villages and sought shelter in Liberia. Francis says he ran for his life and now he wants safety and food.
Liberia: Settling InPlay video

Liberia: Settling In

A dozen new shelters are built every day in Liberia's Bahn refugee camp. Eventually there will be 3,000 shelters for some of the many civilians who have fled from neighbouring Côte d'Ivoire.