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IOM Begins First Repatriation Of Liberian and Ivorian Refugees

By International Office of Migration (IOM)
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GENEVA, Switzerland, February 28, 2012/African Press Organization (APO)/ -- IOM, in partnership with UNHCR, has begun a weekly voluntary repatriation of Ivorian refugees who had fled to Liberia at the outbreak of the civil war in April 2011.

The operation is taking place simultaneously with the repatriation of the remaining Liberian refugees who have been living in Cote d'Ivoire.

A total of 15,000 Ivorian refugees and 15,000 Liberian refugees will be assisted to return to their respective countries by the end of the end of the operation.

There are an estimated 79,000 Ivorian refugees still residing in Liberia and up to 24,000 Liberian refugees in Cote d'Ivoire.

On 22nd February a first convoy of nine vehicles (4 buses and 5 trucks) carrying 233 men, women and children, some of them vulnerable, left Toe Town refugee camp in Eastern Liberia.

They made the 6-hour journey from eastern Liberia and crossed the river which marks the border between the two countries, before arriving at Toulepleu, a village in Cote d'Ivoire, which is the final destination for most of the returnees.

The second convoy left on 25th February and comprised a group of 339 who travelled from Sacleapea refugee camp in Liberia, to their final destination in Danane region of Cote d'Ivoire.

In total, 13 vehicles carrying the returnees and their personal possessions, such as chairs, beds, mattresses and food, were used the repatriation.

"I have had a peaceful existence here since my arrival in Liberia" one of the returnees told IOM. "But as you know, home is home. Now things are better at home, I need to return and re-build my life for the sake of my children."

Prior to the journey, IOM had carried out road and infrastructure assessments to ensure the safety of the convoy.

Once the returnees had reached their final destinations, IOM provided them with essential non-food items that will help them to restart their lives.

UNHCR provided the returnees with cash grants to meet their immediate expenses and WFP provided them with a one-month food ration.

At the peak of the crisis in Cote d'Ivoire, more than 200,000 Ivorian refugees had sought refuge in Liberia and undetermined number in neighbouring countries including Ghana, Mali, Burkina Faso and Guinea. Most of them have now returned to Cote d'Ivoire following the end of the civil strife and the subsequent improvement of security.

Meanwhile, IOM has also started assisting the voluntary return of the remaining Liberian refugees in Cote d'Ivoire.

Last week, IOM assisted 250 Liberian refugees from the town of Tabou to return to Harper in South-eastern Liberia. The same number was repatriated a week earlier.

IOM is planning to step up the repatriation process to meet the 30th June deadline when Liberians living in Cote D'Ivoire will no longer enjoy refugee status.

The scheduled voluntary repatriation of the Liberian and Ivorian refugees is being funded by UNHCR and implemented by IOM.

It is anticipated that by the end of the year the targeted numbers of the Ivorian and Liberian refugees would have been assisted to return to their respective countries.