The newest camp opened on Thursday on land formerly owned by the Prime Timber Production (PTP) company in Grand Gedeh County. The aim is to improve protection and assistance for the refugees, who are currently scattered across 300 remote locations along the border with Côte d’Ivoire.
The refugees who are relocating told UNHCR staff that they were not ready to return home. They fled to Liberia after violence erupted between the supporters of rival candidates in last November’s presidential election, but the conflict ended in April.
By moving to the PTP camp further inland, they can enjoy better services such as monthly food supply, medical care, education, water and sanitation. The camp, the largest of the six in Liberia, also offers family shelters.
“I have decided to relocate to PTP camp because I can get better services there as well as privacy,” said Tai, a 42-year-old English teacher from Guiglo who lost a child during the violence. “I am not returning to Côte d’Ivoire now,” he added.
The opening of the PTP camp is part of a relocation operation that is taking place along the border. UNHCR expects to move 50,000 more refugees to the six camps by the end of this year, despite logistical challenges posed by heavy seasonal rains and muddy roads.
“We are delighted that we are responding to the expressed desire of the refugees themselves to relocate,” said Andrew Mbogori, head of the UNHCR sub-office in the town of Saclepea. He added that dozens of refugees had walked by themselves to the camps.
Under current planning the PTP camp will be the last to be opened in Liberia, as the security situation continues to improve in Côte d’Ivoire. Up to 70,000 refugees are estimated to have repatriated to western Côte d’Ivoire on their own in recent months.
Last month, the governments of Liberia, Côte d’Ivoire and UNHCR signed a tripartite agreement for the voluntary repatriation of Ivorian refugees. The agreement sets the legal framework for the refugees’ voluntary return in safety and dignity. UNHCR is working on the modalities of an organized repatriation movement for which a launch date has yet to be agreed.
More than 173,000 Ivorians are estimated to have crossed into Liberia in the wake of last year’s election and the ensuing instability. About 30,000 live in the five other camps set up earlier. In addition, there are an estimated 26,000 Ivorian refugees in 12 other countries in the region.
By Sulaiman Momodu in Grand Gedeh County, Liberia