More than 200 Liberians return home by ship as UNHCR resumes sea-borne repatriation

Monday, May 7, 2007

MONROVIA, Liberia, March 30

More than 200 Liberian refugees returned home on a Panamanian-registered vessel this week, marking the first UNHCR-assisted repatriation by sea from nearby countries in almost six months.

The chartered M/V Kiriaki I, carrying 214 Liberian refugees from camps in Nigeria and Ghana, docked on Wednesday evening in Monrovia. It was the first UNHCR-organised repatriation by sea since October last year.

The five-month-long pause was caused by the breakdown of another chartered ship and subsequent difficulties in finding an alternative seaworthy vessel. UNHCR also charters commercial flights to repatriate Liberian refugees from Nigeria and Ghana and organises overland repatriation convoys from neighbouring countries.

UNHCR'S plans for this year are to repatriate some 60,000 Liberian refugees before the end of June, when the agency's assisted repatriation programme for the country is due to end.

"The current surge in the voluntary repatriation of Liberian refugees by sea, air and ground reconfirms that the plan to bring the organised return to an end in June 2007 is on track," said Mengesha Kebede, UNHCR's representative in Liberia, who added that "reintegration activities have also been speeded up to ensure sustainability of return."

To date, UNHCR has helped 94,137 Liberian refugees go home since the start of organised voluntary repatriation in October 2004. More than half of the returnees have come from neighbouring Guinea.

The Kiriaki I sailed from Nigeria on March 22 carrying 167 refugees. It stopped at Tema in Ghana and picked up 47 refugees last Saturday before heading on to Monrovia. Upon arrival, all returnees received assistance packages, including household items, food rations for four months and a transport allowance to their final destination.

"The boat will remain at the disposal of refugees interested in bringing substantial luggage with them, while those with limited luggage will continue to use air services from Nigeria and Ghana," said UNHCR's Kebede.

The sea repatriation movement is run in collaboration with the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) and the governments of Ghana and Nigeria. With the end of the large-scale organised repatriation close, UNHCR believes it is imperative that Liberians who wish to return home have the opportunity to do so. With the cut-off date looming, many are turning up to register for repatriation.

There are still just over 100,000 Liberian refugees in West Africa, including more than 36,000 in Ghana, 26,000 in Côte d'Ivoire, 20,000 in Sierra Leone, 16,000 in Guinea and 5,000 in Nigeria.


Author: By Sarah F. Brownell , UNHCR