Ivorian refugees call for disarmament, reconciliation and increased grant before return

News Stories, 10 February 2014

© UNHCR/S.Momodu
Ivorian refugees wait for the arrival of a group of diplomats at Little Wlebo camp, in Liberia's Maryland County.

PTP REFUGEE CAMP, Liberia, February 10 (UNHCR) Ivorian refugees living in Liberia have called for the disarmament of former fighters, stronger efforts at national reconciliation and an increase in the repatriation grant, saying this would encourage more returns to Côte d'Ivoire.

Although UNHCR is facilitating the voluntary repatriation of Ivorian refugees, more than 52,000 remain in four camps and various communities in Liberia. Some 220,000 Ivorians fled to Liberia three years ago following a disputed presidential election in late 2010 that led to fighting between supporters of poll rivals, Laurent Gbagbo and Alassane Ouattara.

"We want to return home, but we do not want to have cause to run away again," Guie Patrice Gnomble, a refugee leader at the PTP Refugee Camp in eastern Liberia, told a large group of visiting diplomats and international aid workers earlier this week. "We are appealing for the disarmament of all fighters [in Côte d'Ivoire], including the donsos [local militia]," he added.

The visit, organized by UNHCR, was aimed at giving the dignitaries a clearer idea of the situation inside the camps and to hear from the refugees about the challenges they face, including a looming food crisis.

In Little Wlebo Refugee Camp, refugee spokeswoman Elisabeth Kouya Nogbado told the visitors that the refugees wanted an increase in the repatriation grant that they receive on arrival in Côte d'Ivoire. Adults receive US$150 from UNHCR, while those under 18 receive US$100. She said the money was needed to give them a better chance of reintegration. She also asked that educational qualifications acquired by refugees in Liberia be recognized in Côte d'Ivoire.

But some refugees said they would not return to their homeland until after the presidential and parliamentary elections scheduled for 2015. "We ran to seek refuge in Liberia as a result of post-election violence. I will not return until peaceful elections are held," said 30-year-old refugee, Blaise. Ivorian refugees also raised concerns about land disputes at a meeting last October in the eastern Liberian town of Zwedru of more than 100 traditional chiefs and elders from Liberia and Côte d'Ivoire.

President Alassane Ouattara and other top Côte d'Ivoire officials, including Ambassador Kapieletien Soro during last week's visit, have urged the refugees to return home and reiterated that peace and stability had been restored to their country. Last year, UNHCR organized "go-and-see" missions, during which refugees visited Côte d'Ivoire to see the conditions back home. "Come-and-tell" missions were also organized for former refugees to visit Liberia and inform refugees about peace, reconciliation and reconstruction efforts back home.

Meanwhile, UNHCR continues to help the neediest refugees on a budget that has been reduced at a time when the refugee agency is also busy with emergencies in places like Syria, South Sudan and Central African. The refugee agency is helping refugees engaged in livelihood activities, including the growing of crops and poultry rearing.

"We are doing all we can to assist Ivorian refugees to return home and rebuild their lives," said Khassim Diagne, UNHCR's representative in Liberia. "In 2013, we repatriated 18,273, exceeding the 16,000 repatriation target for the year. For 2014, we are stepping up our collaboration with Ivorian authorities to ensure that refugees have more objective information about their areas of origin that will enable them to make informed decisions about return."

The governments of Liberia, Côte d'Ivoire and UNHCR will be meeting in the coming weeks in the Ivorian capital, Abidjan, to discuss the repatriation and the concern of the refugees.

By Sulaiman Momodu in Monrovia, Liberia

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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.

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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.

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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

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