After only five months since the resumption of the voluntary repatriation process, the Government of Liberia and UNHCR have assisted over 16,000 Ivorian refugees to return home. A high level mission from the Government of Cote d’Ivoire took place from 3 to 6 May in Liberia, led by the Ivorian Minister of Solidarity, Social Cohesion and Compensation of Victims, Ms. Mariatou Kone, accompanied by other high ranking specialists from relevant ministries (Justice, Education, Defense, Foreign Affairs, Interior) , Members of Parliament and the Ivorian Embassy near Monrovia, to encourage Ivorian refugees to return home by taking advantage of the UNHCR facilitation of voluntary repatriation convoys already in place.
The mission began with a courtesy visit to the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Internal Affairs, Justice and State, as well as a meeting with Ivorian urban refugees in Monrovia, followed by a three-day visit to the refugee camps of Bahn and Saclepea in Nimba County, as well as PTP in Zwedru, Grand Gedeh County and Little Wlebo in Harper, Maryland County.
The Ivorian delegation was accompanied by the Liberian Government represented by Cllr. Abla Gadegbeku- Williams, Executive Director of the Liberia Refugee Repatriation and Resettlement Commission or LRRRC, as well as UNHCR Representative in Liberia, Mme Ndeye Ndour and UNHCR Deputy Representative in Cote d’Ivoire Mme Aissatou Dieng Ndiaye.
During her conversation with the refugees in the three camps, Ms Kone – speaking on behalf of Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara, offered apologies for the difficult situation faced by all refugees during the war, further assuring that peace and security have been restored. She urged her compatriots to return home in order to be part of the process of consolidating peace and social cohesion.
“It is the first time a high level Government representative visits its citizens in exile. We are here as proof that the State is ready to receive and compensate you. Cote d’Ivoire is waiting for you; your country is in need of its children.” The LRRRC and superintendents of the three Counties welcomed the Ivorian delegation and requested that additional “Come & Tell” missions take place to further encourage refugees to return and restore trust in their country. Ensuring that the Government of Liberia was committed to assisting Ivorian refugees to return, Cllr Gadegbeku Williams urged refugees to take advantage and benefit of the
“There is a time for everything and now it is time to go home; there is no place like home,” she admonished the refugees. In seperate remarks, the refugee Chairmen and Chairwomen from the camps expressed gratitude to the Government of Liberia, the host communities and UNHCR for all assistance received in Liberia and highlighted their main concerns in Cote d”Ivoire in the context of voluntary repatriation. Among their pressing concerns were the issues of security, education, healthcare for handicaps or persons with disabilities during the war, land tenure, as well as orphan children who wish to return and livelihood upon return for women and young adults.
In her final remarks, Minister Kone concluded that there were solutions to all the problems raised by the refugees, adding that it was not in the refugee camps that those solutions would be found. “All of your concerns have a solution; come back and work with us to rebuild our country,” said Ms. Kone.