The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has resumed the voluntary repatriation of thousands of Ivorian refugees remaining in Liberia after two months of break.
On 4 June, a convoy of some 351 Ivorian refugees left the Bahn Refugee Camp in Nimba County for Côte d’Ivoire with departing refugees singing cheerfully and bidding goodbye to friends, and to the camp they had called home over the past three years. The refugees were returning to areas such as Bin Houye, Danane, and Danipleu.
According to UNHCR, the voluntary repatriation process was suspended at the end of March following a request by the Government of Côte d’Ivoire, citing health reasons in the wake of the deadly Ebola virus outbreak in Guinea and Liberia. The suspension was lifted last week.
From January to March this year, more than 8,600 Ivorian refugees had returned home with UNHCR’s assistance and hundreds of others living in camps and communities had registered to return when the process was suspended.
“We are very pleased that the voluntary repatriation programmed has resumed. It is my sincere hope that the momentum that picked up in the first few months of 2014 will continue uninterrupted,” UNHCR Representative Khassim Diagne said.
Representative Diagne said there has been no disease outbreak in Ivorian refugee camps in Liberia since six camps were established over three years ago, three of which had been closed with decreasing refugee population. UNHCR, working in collaboration with the Government of Liberia and health partners, has also taken all measures to prevent an Ebola virus outbreak in the camps.
The Executive Director of the Liberia Refugee, Repatriation and Resettlement Commission (LRRRC), Cllr. Abla G. Williams, has described the resumption of the voluntary repatriation exercise as a welcome development. “We are happy that the Ivorian authorities are once again ready to receive their citizens. It shows that all the parties are committed to the Tripartite Commission Agreement which calls for the acceleration of voluntary repatriation of Ivorian refugees in Liberia”, said Cllr. Williams.
Last month, UNHCR organized a “Go-and-See” visit for 12 Ivorian refugees from Grand Gedeh County, during which they returned to Côte d’Ivoire and visited various towns and villages in order to obtain firsthand information on peace, security, development, and reintegration activities in their country. The refugees returned with positive impressions and more missions are expected to be organized.
Liberia currently hosts more than 42,000 Ivorian refugees most of whom are living in three remaining refugee camps in Grand Gedeh, Nimba and Maryland counties, according to the UN Refugee Agency.