The Governments of Liberia, Côte d’Ivoire and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) have agreed to resume voluntary repatriation of 38,000 Ivorian refugees in Liberia.
A press release issued in Monrovia by the UNHCR says the agreement came at the conclusion of a meeting of the Tripartite Commission held 12 March, in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire.
The border between Liberia and Côte d’Ivoire was officially closed in July 2014 as a preventive measure in the context of the Ebola crisis, thus temporarily suspending all voluntary repatriation of Ivorian refugees staying in Liberia for the following eight months.
UNHCR and the Governments of Côte d’Ivoire and Liberia agreed that the current suspension should be lifted amid the sharp decline of the outbreak in Liberia, and that the voluntary repatriation process resumes as early as 6 April 2015, while security and disease control measures jointly adopted in both countries are put in place.
“There has never been a case of Ebola among the refugees living in the camps, and the entire country is well on its way to beating the outbreak,” said UNHCR Representative in Liberia Khassim Diagne. “The refugees themselves want to go home and we think that the conditions are conducive for repatriation to resume.”
Health control procedures, which will be agreed upon by the Ministries of Health in Liberia and Cote d’Ivoire and the World Health Organization, will include health risk assessments for all refugees wanting to repatriate and health monitoring prior to departure. Upon crossing the border, the authorities in Côte d’Ivoire will take over the health monitoring.
The Tripartite Commission also recommended that joint security operations be improved on both sides of the border, and that the UN missions in both countries support their governments in road repairs to facilitate convoy movements.
UNHCR says nearly 8,000 refugees have indicated their intention to return immediately as soon as it is possible to do so.
“The Government of Liberia remains committed to ensuring international protection for the Ivorian refugees and extends thanks and appreciation to all partners for all proactive measures for preventing Ebola for coming into the camps, thus enabling them to return in safety and dignity,” said Cllr. Abla Gadegbeku Williams, Executive Director of the Liberia Refugee Repatriation and Resettlement Commission.
UNHCR has been working closely with LRRRC and the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare to put in place preventive measures and strengthen surveillance to minimize the risk of an Ebola virus outbreak in the camps.
Mass awareness campaigns were initiated to educate the refugees and host communities on the risks of transmission of the disease, and strict hygienic measures requiring hand-washing and body temperature checks were implemented at the entrances to all camps. Areas also were established for the temporary isolation of any camp residents believed to have had contact with someone exhibiting Ebola-like symptoms, and community care centers were constructed on the outskirts of each camp to handle any patients.
The release says upon arriving at the transit center in Côte d’Ivoire, every returnee will go through a medical screening administered by officials of the Ivorian health authorities. This procedure will include taking everyone’s temperature and checking for fever. Medical staff will be present on site.
The returnees will also be provided with food and with cash grants and relief items, including cooking utensils, blankets and mats for sleeping. From there, they will be taken to their villages of origin or to the localities that they have chosen for their new lives, primarily in the west and south-west of the country. Many of them will receive practical support in the form of job training, enabling them to more easily reintegrate into their host communities.
Over 220,000 Ivorian refugees found refuge in Liberia after fleeing their home country during the 2002 civil war and the more recent 2010-2011 post-electoral crisis. Some refugees settled in host communities, while the majority live in three remaining camps located in the counties of Grand Gedeh, Nimba and Maryland, about 30 km or more from the border with Côte d’Ivoire.
Since October 2011, when the repatriation process was first launched, about 205,000 Ivorians have returned to Côte d’Ivoire from Liberia under the auspices of UNHCR.