Dozens more Liberian refugees living as exiles in West Africa are finally returning home this week, before a June deadline that takes away their refugee status.
They are some of the tens of thousands who remain refugees nearly 20 years after Liberia’s civil war ended.
The Liberian Refugee Agency and the United Nations High Commission for Refugees are urging Liberian refugees to take advantage of an on-going voluntary repatriation program.
This is becoming urgent as Liberians will lose their refugee status globally as of June 30th due to great improvements in stability in their home country.
Sulaiman Momodu is a spokesman for the U.N. refugee agency in Liberia.
“What is written in the [cessation] clause [of the UN Refugee Convention] is that refugee life is not forever. And for Liberian refugees this is the end of a long refugee journey that started on Christmas Eve in 1989 when civil war broke out in Liberia," Momodu. "Over the years we have been undertaking mass information campaigns wherein we go to them and tell them about existing conditions, the improved security situation back home. Liberia has enjoyed unbroken peace for nine years now and there have been remarkable developments in Liberia."
Several hundred refugees have returned home this month - many with the U.N.’s assistance. Peggy Pentshi-a Maneng is a United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) Protection Officer.
“Our mandate is to provide protection, but also to work for travel solutions for refugees," she said. "Those who have decided to come back have opted for voluntary repatriation. … It’s a continuing process - anytime we have information that refugees want to come back, we’ll be on this side of the border to assist them.”
42-year-old Bendoria Tubman was among the first batch of Liberian refugees from Ghana. She says she is excited to be back.
“Nowhere is like home. In Ghana I cannot do anything like planning my life there. I need to come home," Tubman said. "There, there was free education so I graduated from nursing school and pharmacy school and I worked there in a hospital, but now I work with them for five years and I decided to come home and live a better life here.”
48 year-old Euguene Selle also returned from Ghana. He said, “I am very happy to be on my own soil. I spent about 11 or 12 years in Ghana. I went from the civil war, because, you know during wartime if you don’t fight you are in trouble even with your friend. So I decided to go to exile with my step-mum. The exile life cannot be compared with Liberian life - life is so difficult.”
There are still some 60,000 Liberians refugees who have sought asylum in West Africa.