The U.N. refugee agency is ending its repatriation program for Liberian refugees Saturday. Since the operation began 2.5 years ago, the UNHCR has helped more than 100,000 refugees return home from neighboring countries, mostly from Guinea, Ivory Coast, Sierra Leone, Ghana and Nigeria. Lisa Schlein reports for VOA from UNHCR headquarters in Geneva.
The U.N. refugee agency calls this a happy ending for Liberia after more than a decade of conflict and trauma. Agency spokesman Ron Redmond says helping many thousands of Liberians return home took time and effort.
"So, the conclusion of the Liberian repatriation is something that brings us a lot of satisfaction because it has been an extremely complicated and logistically difficult return," he noted. "And, it is good to see so many Liberians going home voluntarily to rebuild this country that has really suffered a lot,"
Between 1989 and 2003, more than 350,000 Liberian refugees fled the civil war raging in their country. The fighting and violence killed an estimated 200,000 people, left more than 800,000 homeless and devastated the country's infrastructure and economy.
The UNHCR has assisted more than 100,000 refugees to return to Liberia, and it says another 50,000 have gone back on their own. Redmond tells VOA the refugees know they will face difficulties, but he says they are eager to resume the lives they were forced to flee years ago and want to help rebuild their country.
He says his agency is doing its best to ease their return by giving the refugees a transportation grant, food, household items, tools and seeds.
Whenever possible, he says the returnees are provided with jobs or job training. He says the U.N. also employs people to work on projects, such as the construction of roads, wells, schools and clinics.
Redmond says the future prospects for Liberia look good.
"A lot of people are working in Liberia on reconstruction and development," he added. "There is a lot of support from the international community for the Liberian government, democratically elected Liberian government. So, I think there is a willingness after so many years of falling back into conflict to see countries like Liberia really make a go of it this time."
Redmond says in recent years, about half of all countries emerging from conflict have fallen back into war because they did not get the kind of long-term attention they needed. He says Liberia will get the happy ending it deserves, if the international community sticks with it.