The U.N. refugee agency says it is closing its field office in the Kissidougou region of Guinea at the end of the month following the relocation of the last of the Liberian refugees residing there. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from UNHCR headquarters in Geneva.
The U.N. refugee agency calls the closing of the office a landmark in achieving its objectives in Guinea. This will end the agency's 18-year presence helping Liberian refugees in the area.
The UNHCR launched its repatriation operation for Liberian refugees in Guinea's Kissidougou region on May 10, 2005. During that time, some 16,000 Liberian refugees have been assisted.
Most went back to the Liberian counties of Lofa, Bong, Montsserado and Nimba.
The UNHCR says movements from Kissidougou faced many difficulties, including the weather and logistics. Spokesman Ron Redmond said Monday his agency started relocating the remaining 3,000 Liberian refugees in Kissidougou's Kountaya camp. He says these refugees either cannot or would not return to their homeland.
"As in any refugee situation, they cite numerous reasons," he said. "Many of them have been severely traumatized. Others remain frightened. Others fear there is absolutely nothing for them to go back to. They may feel there may have more resources in refugee camps than they do back at home. So there is always a mass information program or information program associated with these repatriations to show people what conditions are in Liberia."
A brutal civil war raged in Liberia during the 1990s, causing tens of thousands of refugees to flee to neighboring countries. The Liberian government and the UNHCR have been encouraging the refugees to return home, especially since the holding of democratic elections last year.
The U.N. refugee agency began an organized voluntary repatriation operation in November 2004. Since then, the agency has helped return more than 38,000 Liberian refugees, including 16,000 from Guinea.
The UNHCR says nearly 143,000 Liberian refugees still remain outside their homeland, primarily in Guinea, Ivory Coast, Sierra Leone and Ghana.