The UN refugee agency says it is so encouraged by the positive changes taking place in Liberia that it will now actively call on Liberian refugees to come home. That’s a policy shift for the agency in its voluntary repatriation program.
The UNHCR says the recent election of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf as president is a milestone for democracy and stability in Liberia. Annette Rehrl is a spokesperson for the UNHCR. From Monrovia, she spoke to English to Africa reporter Joe De Capua about why the agency will actively promote its voluntary repatriation program.
“The promotional phase is basically for us to give a signal to the refugees in the countries of asylum that we are very confident in the stability and the future of Liberia. We are working very well together with the new, established government under Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. So, there’s basically no reason for them to have any fear. They can come back and we as UNHCR endorse this,” she says.
The call for Liberian refugees to return will be done through a mass communication campaign in neighboring countries. Refugees can even come for a visit to check conditions for themselves before they decide. It’s estimated about 160,000 Liberians are in neighboring countries.
When refugees return through the official repatriation program, they are registered and given supplies. Rehrl says, “They receive the return package with…non-food items like kitchen sets, plastic sheets and whatever you need to create a new household. They get a four-month food ration from WFP (World Food Program). They get vaccinations, medical counseling, counseling on HIV/AIDS awareness, counseling in terms of what reintegration programs we put in place. And then they also get the secondary transport allowance of $5 per person to reason their final destination."