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Liberian Refugees Return to Face Challenges of Resettlement

Hundreds of thousands of Liberian refugees, displaced by more than a decade of civil war, have returned to the country. For many, coming home offers few opportunities as the economy struggles to stabilize and government services remain scarce. With large-scale repatriations expected to be phased out in the coming weeks, Kari Barber reports from VOA's west Africa bureau in Dakar about how re-settlement is working for those who have returned.

Jerry Coleman fetches water from a machine to sell at the market.

He says he does whatever odd-end jobs he can find to provide food for his wife and six children.

"Sometimes we go and help people cut their grass, and sometimes we wash people's clothes," he said. "That is the only way because the labor jobs in the companies are very hard to get. This is the only thing we are surviving on so far because the government does not have jobs for us and the companies are not here."

Coleman and his family returned to Monrovia last year on foot from a refugee camp in Sierra Leone where they lived during the war. He says he wishes he had never returned.

"I regret very much, I regret very much coming back to Liberia," he said. "I expected from my own country to come back and start doing something to sustain my family, but nothing at all. I did not get anything. So I regret coming back to Liberia."

Single father Samuel Toe returned with his two children to Liberia from Ivory Coast in 2006. He says enough has not been done to help refugees resettle and find jobs.

"There were a lot of things that they promised," he said. "Like they promised us that they were going to give us a few rations to help us establish life. Up to now we have not seen any effort from them yet."

A spokesman for the Liberia Refugee Repatriation and Reintegration Commission, Carpet Reeves, says his group is doing everything it can to help returned refugees, including transportation back home and food rations.

"Here we will give you the first two months of food rations, because it is our mandate," he said. "Our mandate is to be with the people in the community, to make sure their lives are restarted."

Despite the struggle, some Liberians say they are happy to be home.

Dennis Cole spent eight years in a refugee camp in Guinea. He says life is better in Liberia than it was in the camp.

"Since I came things are going fine," he said. "I have three children in school. I am selling clothes in a wheelbarrow to sustain my children."

Cole says he is operating a small business selling used clothes.

"In Liberia, all is well with me now," he added.

According to U.N. data, there are still tens of thousands of Liberian refugees dispersed throughout West Africa, primarily in Ghana, Ivory Coast, Sierra Leone, Guinea and Nigeria.