An increasing number of Liberian refugees in Côte d'Ivoire are choosing to return home under UNHCR's voluntary repatriation programme to Liberia. Citing improved security conditions in their homeland as the main factor weighing in their decision to go back, some 5,100 refugees returned to Maryland and Nimba counties in eastern Liberia over the past four weeks. This is a sharp increase compared to the first five months of the year, when only 700 Liberians had repatriated from Côte d'Ivoire.
There are 47,000 Liberian refugees remaining in Côte d'Ivoire who are mainly settled in the western part of the country. Many of them had been reluctant to return to their home country after having witnessed violence that forced them into exile, often on repeated occasions, during the 14-year civil war that ended in late 2003.
The majority of the refugees are repatriating from villages in the Guiglo and Tabou prefectures in western Côte d'Ivoire where they had been living for over a decade. Some of them told our staff that one of the reasons for their return was concern over the security conditions in western Côte d'Ivoire. Other Liberians, who had hoped to go to the United States as part of a U.S. government resettlement programme, are choosing to repatriate now the programme is closing down. Some 6,500 Liberian refugees were resettled to the U.S. since 2003 under the programme, which was designed as an emergency response to help Liberian refugees caught in the Ivorian war and unable to go home at the time.
Other factors boosting repatriation from Côte d'Ivoire to Liberia include better reception arrangements in Maryland and Nimba counties, where we have improved our transit facilities, trucking capacity and assistance. We have also stepped up our information campaign on the repatriation programme by visiting refugees in the remotest Ivorian villages, thus reaching refugees who lacked objective information about security and living conditions in post-war Liberia.
Since October 2004, when UNHCR launched the Liberian voluntary repatriation operation in West Africa, we have assisted close to 28,000 Liberian refugees to return and build a new life in Liberia. These refugees repatriated mainly from Guinea, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Nigeria and Côte d'Ivoire. UNHCR and other UN agencies have also helped resettle another 189,000 displaced Liberians back to their communities of origin.
Although we expect the upward trend of returns from Côte d'Ivoire to continue, a slowdown in departures is to be anticipated as we approach the Liberian elections slated for October 11 this year.