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First Group of Internally Displaced Persons Return to Their Villages in Western Cote d'Ivoire

By International Office of Migration (IOM)
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GENEVA, Switzerland, November 18, 2011/African Press Organization (APO)/ -- Seven months after the end of the post electoral crisis in Cote d'Ivoire, hundreds of families who sought refuge in camps in the west of the country, are finally returning home with IOM assistance.

On 16 November 2011, IOM in coordination with government authorities and partner agencies carried out the first organized return of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) from a displaced centre in the western town of Duékoué to surrounding villages.

A first IOM convoy of a 103 families (459 individuals) left the overcrowded Catholic Mission holding centre in Duékoué for various nearby communities. Other returns are planned over the next few days, with the remaining families scheduled for relocation in a nearby camp in Nahibly.

Up to 25,000 IDPs sought refuge in and around the Catholic Mission in Duékoué at the peak of the conflict. Currently, an estimated 17,000 displaced persons are still living in camps throughout Cote d'Ivoire, in addition to thousands of others who are staying with host communities.

Security improvements in the region have encouraged many displaced persons to consider returning to villages, with many families excited at the prospect of returning home.

"I think I will do better by returning to my village", one of the returnees told IOM. "Life in the camp has been good because it has provided us with security. Now things are better, I need to go home and re-build my life for the sake of my children"

Residents of other IDP camps in Western Cote d'Ivoire who are willing to return to their villages will be assisted by IOM and its partners to do so.

Over the past weeks, IOM has organized several "go-and-see visits" for IDPs who saw that living conditions in their home villages had steadily improved. On their return, they shared information with those who stayed back in the camps. This information helped them in their decision to return or not.

However, many families are still too frightened to return immediately, though they intend to do so at a later date. Some say they will have nowhere to stay because their houses were destroyed during the conflict. Others are afraid of gun-carrying traditional fighters and other armed men, while a good number fear those who they say illegally occupied their plantations after they had fled.

IOM is currently rehabilitating some 300 destroyed homes in some of the worst conflict-affected areas in the west of Cote d'Ivoire and is stocking up on non-food items, which include plastic sheeting, mattresses, mats, kitchen sets, buckets, etc. for distribution to families in need.

As the IDPs return, they will undoubtedly face the daunting task of putting their lives back together. IOM will continue to conduct follow-up missions in the areas of return, to ascertain the living conditions, with the aim of providing the assistance that is needed for sustainability.

In order to do this IOM will appeal to the donor community for financial aid. The current activities are being carried out thanks to donations from the Central Emergency Relief Fund (CERF), the European Union Humanitarian Assistance (ECHO), the Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA) and the Australian Assistance for International Development (AUSAID).