The U.N. Refugee Agency says Liberia's new President, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, is helping to inform refugees scattered throughout West African countries that it is time for them to come home and that the UNHCR can help them to return.
The U.N. Refugee Agency says Liberia's President, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf has made a video in which she urges tens of thousands of Liberian refugees to consider returning home and rebuilding their country.
Spokesman, Ron Redmond, says the video, which was recorded before she was inaugurated Monday, assures Liberians still outside their country that their government wants them home.
"She pledged that her government would work with UNHCR and other partners to reintegrate them into their communities, to identify employment opportunities, and to help them obtain those basic services that will enable them to resume a normal life," Redmond said. "Her filmed message will be part of a UNHCR mass information campaign for some 190,000 Liberian refugees who are still scattered across West Africa."
Redmond says many refugees have been watching the political process in Liberia closely to decide whether and when to go home. He says November's peaceful elections have reassured many of the refugees that after 14 years of unrest and violence, Liberia is back on the road to peace and stability.
He says getting the refugees home will not be a problem. But, he acknowledges the difficulties of getting them reintegrated into the communities they fled years ago. He notes many refugees are worried about not being able to find a home or a job. Redmond says Liberian President Sirleaf, who herself was forced to live in exile for many years, shares these concerns.
"There are lots of young Liberians, for example, who were child soldiers," he said. "They need employment opportunities. They need hope for the future. The international community is going to have to ensure that Liberia has the long-term development support that it needs to ensure that all of these refugees and internally displaced returns can be sustainable. We can get them back, but ensuring that they can stay there is going to be the problem."
At the height of the Liberian conflict, some 850,000 people were displaced, one-half million of them within Liberia itself. Since the Comprehensive Peace Agreement was signed in 2003, one-half million people have gone back to their home communities.
The UNHCR says its partners now are preparing to accelerate repatriations to take advantage of the better road conditions during the dry season, which lasts until June.