Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has ordered an investigation into reports of alleged arrests and forceful repatriation of Ivorian refugees suspected of attempts to destabilize both countries.
A report last week by the Associated Press quoted UN refugee agency representative Khassim Diagne as saying that 14 registered Ivorian refugees were among a group of 23 suspects arrested in southeastern Liberia and shipped across the Cavalla River into Ivory Coast.
The report quotes UN officials as saying such action is a violation of international law.
Liberian Information Minister Lewis Brown said his country is committed to the protection of all its citizens, as well as those seeking refuge in Liberia.
He said his government wants to understand the facts surrounding the reports and, if the allegations are true, it will take the necessary measures to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
“We’d like to pride ourselves as doing the best we can to not just reinstitute the rule of law in our country, but to interact with the comity of nations in respect of international law and best practices. And so, when we received these reports that individuals, especially from neighboring Cote d’Ivoire seeking refuge in our country, were forcefully repatriated, it is a matter for serious attention, and we are treating it as such,” he said.
Brown said, despite Liberia’s fragility as a country emerging from years of conflict, the country continues to open its borders to thousands of refugees from Ivory Coast and Sierra Leone.
“We will continue to remain a safe haven, not just for refugees from Cote d’Ivoire or Sierra Leone, because we see it as a duty that we owe to ourselves and as a good neighbor to always open Liberia up to those who seek relief from their areas. And, it is not a policy of our government to return people to places where they are coming from seeking help in our country,” Brown said.
He said the Liberian government is neither confirming nor denying the reports. Instead, Brown said the government wants to understand the facts surrounding the reports and, if the allegations are true, the government will take the necessary measures to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
“The president has instructed a speedy, full investigation into this matter and we will make all of our findings available and take the proper corrective measures wherever necessary,” he said.
A statement released earlier by the Liberian Foreign Ministry said, “The government of Liberia is reminded of recent attacks which witnessed the unfortunate loss of lives of innocent citizens and peacekeepers of the United Nations Operations in Cote d’Ivoire (UNOCI)”.
The statement called on the international community “to assist Liberia in moving refugee camps away from the border, so as to remove the ease with which non-state actors and mercenaries continue to go back and forth planning, and sometimes implementing activities inimical to the peace, security and stability of the two countries”.