Nearly one year after thousands of Ivorians fled into Liberia’s Nimba County, the first day of November marked a new beginning for 172 refugees as they returned to Côte d’ Ivoire on the first United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) facilitated voluntary repatriation convoy from the Bahn Refugee Camp in the county. Bahn is the first of six new camps established in Liberia between February and September this year.
The UN refugee agency in collaboration with the Liberia Refugee Repatriation and Resettlement Commission (LRRRC) and partners facilitated the return of the refugees in a convoy of 20 vehicles, including 10 trucks and 10 light vehicles.
Amid singing and clapping, the refugees were first transported to the Toe Town Transit Centre from where they continued their journey of about 160 km through Liberia’s B’hai border crossing point to the Toulepleu Transit Centre in Côte d’ Ivoire.
The refugees were provided with High Energy Protein Biscuits, bread, sardines and water on the way. Upon arrival, they were received by the Government of Côte d’ Ivoire, UNHCR and partners. The main area of return was Zouan – Hounien.
“We welcome the return of refugees which is as a result of the improvement in safety and security in Côte d’ Ivoire. We hope conditions will continue to improve so we can accelerate returns,” said UNHCR Representative Cosmas Chanda, adding that the return is in line with the implementation of the Tripartite Agreement signed in August by the governments of Liberia, Côte d’ Ivoire and UNHCR.
Added to the improvement in security, some refugees said they were returning to rehabilitate their houses which had been either destroyed during the post-electoral violence or vandalized in their absence.
“I went to look at my house before deciding to return. I found the roof, doors, windows and everything we had in it had been looted,” said Daple, 33, a father of two. Education and employment opportunities are among other reasons for return.
“UNHCR is responding to the request of refugees to be assisted to return to their country; the momentum is on and we are going to organize regular convoys at this facilitation stage,” remarked UNHCR Head of Sub Office, Andrew Mbogori.
He also noted that despite the challenges faced by deplorable road conditions, a further 142 refugees from Bahn camp will be facilitated to return later this week.
The first convoy from Bahn camp is the second UNHCR facilitated convoy in less than two weeks. The first convoy of 114 refugees was from the Solo Refugee Camp, Grand Gedeh County, on 21 October. But while some refugees are returning home, others are relocating from communities into camps.
On the same day the first group of refugees left Nimba County to return home, 358 Ivorian refugees voluntarily relocated to the PTP camp at a former prime timber production compound in Grand Gedeh County.
There is currently an estimated 163, 243 Ivorian refugees in Liberia. The UN refugee agency and partners say they will continue to provide assistance to Ivorian refugees who want to return home as well as to those who remain in Liberia.