– The UN 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 unrest that rocked Côte d’Ivoire after presidential elections last year.
A convoy of 12 vehicles carrying 118 people left the Solo refugee camp in Liberia’s Grand Gedeh county on Friday in an operation organized by UNHCR and the Liberian Refugee Repatriation and Resettlement Commission. Earlier reports mistakenly put the total of returnees at 114.
The refugees, who were transported across the border to Toulepleu, the nearest transit centre on the Ivorian side, were provided with high-energy protein biscuits and water before leaving the camp.
The 105-kilometre journey from Solo camp to the transit centre lasted about four hours. The refugees have since returned to their villages in Blolequine, Toulepleu, Doukoue and Guiglo in Côte d’Ivoire.
Some of the refugees said they chose to go back home because security had improved, while others were returning so that their children can attend school. Others cited employment reasons, while a number said they wanted to participate in Côte d’Ivoire’s parliamentary elections scheduled for December.
“UNHCR is not currently promoting returns but the tripartite agreement is now operational,” said Robert Tibagwa, the UNHCR Deputy Representative in Liberia, referring to an agreement on voluntary repatriation signed in August by Côte d’Ivoire, Liberia and UNHCR. “We will continue to work with our partners to assist refugees who would like to return.”
There are an estimated 163,200 Ivorian refugees in Liberia, including some 156,700 who have arrived since November last year and more than 6,500 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 in November 2010 to Alassane Ouattara, who was sworn in after Gbagbo surrendered in April.