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UNHCR Ending Liberian Repatriation Operation

The UN refugee agency says its repatriation operation for Liberia comes to an end Saturday. The UNHCR says it was one of the agency’s largest operations in recent years. The last repatriation convoy carrying 500 Liberians left Guinea Thursday.

Andre Mahecic is a spokesperson for the UNHCR. From Geneva, he spoke to VOA English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua about the success of the operation.

“We consider that the two and a half year long program was quite successful. Since October of 2004, UNHCR assisted more than 105,000 people to go back home to Liberia. In addition, we have also registered some 50,000 Liberian refugees who returned home on their own. And additionally, there is also a number of people who went home on their own, but we have no record of.

“In addition to that, it should be mentioned that we have also taken part in the return of some 326,000 internally displaced persons to their area of origin. This program was successfully completed earlier last year in April 2006. The internally displaced Liberians had been living in camps mainly around the capital, Monrovia,” he says.

The UNHCR says even though the repatriation operation officially ends Saturday, ad hoc convoys could still be organized for some 80,000 Liberians in West African countries who have decided not to return home at this time.

The refugees returned home from neighboring countries, such as Guinea, Ivory Coast, Sierra Leone, Ghana and Nigeria.

Mahecic says, “The war, which was raging in Liberia between 1989 and 2003, forced some 350,000 Liberians to flee their country. Also, the fighting and the violence left behind some 200,000 dead, over 800,000 internally displaced. And almost entirely devastated the country’s infrastructure and economy.”

The UNHCR and other agencies have programs in place to help people reintegrate into society, such as vocational training. At the same time, repairs have been made to shelters, roads, schools and clinics.