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Refugee Situation Improves in West Africa


The United Nations says since the end of major conflicts in the region, West Africa's refugee population is declining.

Two million people were uprooted during the civil war in Sierra Leone, and hundreds of thousands fled conflicts in Ivory Coast and Liberia.

Now, with the end of major conflict in the region, most West African refugees have returned home or settled in their host country, leaving relatively few in camps.

Elike Segbor, West Africa representative for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, says the region is moving away from emergency situations and towards reconstruction in post-conflict countries.

Segbor says that because there are no longer any big conflicts in the region, there are no longer hundreds of millions of refugees. He says the situation has improved greatly.

Now there are only 150,000 refugees and asylum seekers in the entire region, most of whom are Liberian, Mauritanian and Senegalese. Ghana hosts the highest concentration of refugees in the region.

Sierra Leoneans who fled the country during the civil war lost their refugee status in 2008. The UN determined the root cause of the refugee problem in Sierra Leone no longer exists since the country is now stable.

Segbor says overall this is a positive trend, he says there are no longer many camps in the region. The largest camp in Ghana holds about 15,000 people, mostly Liberians. He says fewer camps are a positive sign and shows there is a movement towards reconstruction.

A significant population of black Mauritanian refugees remain in camps in Senegal and Mali, since they fled their country in 1989 because of racial persecution.

Of about 30,000 Mauritanians registered in Senegal, a third have already returned home. Another third are waiting for their papers to be processed and the rest have chosen to stay in Senegal.

But after two decades in exile, the return home is not always easy. The international community and local governments support reintegration by providing food, wells, houses and land. But refugees rarely return to their original home or receive their original plot of land.

Segbor says with the upcoming elections in Guinea Bissau, Guinea Conakry and Togo, there is the potential for conflict that could generate refugees.

But he remains optimistic. He says there is a change in people's thinking that means they prefer to stay in their own country rather than go on the road.

Segbor says that if December's military takeover in Conakry had happened a few years ago, people would have left the country. But this time, they stayed and tried to figure out the problem at home.

Segbor hopes this is a trend that will continue.

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