The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in collaboration with the Liberia Refugee Repatriation and Resettlement Commission (LRRRC) facilitated the first voluntary repatriation to Côte d’ Ivoire on Friday, 21 October. The convoy of 114 individuals marked the commencement of facilitated voluntary return of Ivorian refugees to the West African state.
The refugees were from Solo Refugee Camp in Grand Gedeh County, one of six new refugee camps that have been established in Liberia to accommodate thousands of Ivorians who fled to Liberia following disputed presidential run-off elections in Côte d’ Ivoire in November 2010.
The refugees were transported in a convoy of 12 vehicles, including five trucks, through Liberia’s Toe Town border crossing point to the nearest Transit Centre of Toulepleu in Côte d’ Ivoire. Before leaving the camp, the refugees were provided with High Energy Protein Biscuit and water. The journey from the Solo camp to the transit centre in Côte d’ Ivoire, a distance of about 105 km, lasted about four hours.
Upon arrival, the returnees were received by the Government of Côte d’ Ivoire, UNHCR and partners. The main areas of return were Blolequine, Toulepleu, Doukoue and Guiglo. Added to the improvement in security, some refugees said they were returning with their children for educational reasons, others cited employment purposes, while some said they were returning to participate in the forthcoming parliamentary elections scheduled for this coming December.
In August, the governments of Liberia, Côte d’ Ivoire and UNHCR signed a Tripartite Agreement in an effort to help refugees who want to return. “UNHCR is not currently promoting returns but the tripartite agreement is now operational,” remarked UNHCR Deputy Representative Robert Tibagwa.“ We will continue to work with our partners to assist refugees who would like to return,” he added.
There is currently an estimated 163, 243 Ivorian refugees in Liberia, including 156, 724 who arrived since November 2010, and 6, 519 who have been living in the country since 2003. The UN refugee agency and partners continue to provide humanitarian assistance to Ivorian refugees who remain in Liberia.