ABIDJAN, 21 January (IRIN) - The
UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has repatriated close to 300
Liberian refugees since Friday when it began an emergency operation for
Liberians living in south-western Cote d'Ivoire, UNHCR reported on Monday.
Some 3,000 refugees, the UN said, had registered to return to the "relative
safety of home" in Liberia.
Those registered are part of a large community of Liberian refugees who had lived in Cote d'Ivoire, mostly in the western and south-western areas. According to official statistics, western Cote d'Ivoire hosts more than 60,000 Liberian refugees.
UNHCR decided to launch the operation after its efforts to relocate the refugees from the area- which had become volatile and insecure- to safer areas of southern Cote d'Ivoire failed. A request to relocate the refugees, including to 6,000 who lived in the Nicla refugee camp, to the coastal town of Grand-Lahou, some 160 km west of Abidjan, was denied by residents and local authorities of Grand-Lahou.
The participating agencies were using a combination of mini-bus and canoes to transport the refugees from Tabou to a transit center in Maryland County, across the border. Monday's repatriation was the largest with 147 people repatriated, UNHCR said on Monday.
The UN agency also said that it plans to start an awareness campaign across the country as an attempt to defuse tensions between local populations and the Liberian refugees. Recent fighting in western area, with reported involvement of Liberian mercenaries, had created suspicion of the refugee community.
Meanwhile the UN Humanitarian Envoy, Carolyn McAskie, began on Tuesday a mission to the Ivorian hinterland. McAskie traveled to Bouake where she met with rebels of the Mouvement Patriotique de Cote d'Ivoire (MPCI) to discuss access for humanitarian agencies.
In Bouake, which is under MPCI control since the start of the Ivorian conflict, she also visited a center for abandoned children and held meetings with UN agencies and NGOs in the area. In the capital Yamoussoukro, she met with local officials and visited a transit center. She is expected to travel to the western towns of Daloa and Guiglo where she would visit the Nicla camp.
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