IVORIAN REFUGEES RETURN FROM LIBERIA IN UN-SUPPORTED VOLUNTARY REPATRIATION

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The United Nations refugee agency has facilitated the return of the first group
of Ivorian refugees who have opted for voluntary repatriation from Liberia where
they sought safety during the bloody unrest that rocked Côte d’Ivoire after
presidential elections last November.

A convoy of 12 vehicles carrying 114 people left the Solo refugee camp in
Liberia’s Grand Gedeh county on Friday headed for Côte d’Ivoire in a voluntary
repatriation effort jointly organized by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees
(UNHCR) and the Liberian Refugee Repatriation and Resettlement Commission.

The refugees, who were transported across the border to Toulepleu, the nearest
transit centre on the Ivorian side of the frontier, were provided with rations
of high-energy protein biscuits and water before leaving the camp, the UN
peacekeeping mission in Liberia (UNMIL) said in a press release. The
105-kilometre journey from Solo camp to the transit centre lasted about four
hours.

They will eventually return to their villages in Blolequine, Toulepleu, Doukoue
and Guiglo in Côte d’Ivoire.

Some of the refugees said they chose go back home because security had improved,
while others said they were returning so that their children can go back to
school. Some cited employment reasons, with a number saying they wanted to
participate in Côte d’Ivoire’s parliamentary elections scheduled for December.

Liberia and Côte d’Ivoire and UNHCR signed a tripartite agreement on voluntary
repatriation in August.

“UNHCR is not currently promoting returns but the tripartite agreement is now
operational,” said Robert Tibagwa, the UNHCR Deputy Representative in Liberia.
“We will continue to work with our partners to assist refugees who would like to
return.”

There are an estimated 163,243 Ivorian refugees in Liberia, including 156,724
who arrived since November and 6,519 who have been living in that country since
2003.

Violence erupted in Côte d’Ivoire when former president Laurent Gbagbo refused
to step down after he lost the UN-certified election to Alassane Ouattara, who
was eventually sworn in after Mr. Gbagbo surrendered in April.

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