Sometimes the decision of whether to dare coming back home or rather stay for an indefinite time in a refugee camp is hard to take for refugees living in Countries of Asylum. While recent surveys have shown that most refugees want to return to Liberia rather sooner than later, they still need to overcome deep rooted fears. Therefore the chance to ask questions and to meet distinct authorities and returnees from one's home county are always mostly welcome.
Hence, a delegation of seven authorities from Bong County and LRRRC, headed by the Hon. Development Superintendent, Lee Rogers, two returnees and UNHCR' s Grbanga Protection team, were well received during their recent three-days-sensitization mission to Nzerekore, Guinea. This was actually the first go-and-tell-visit by representatives from Bong County.
The delegation informed the refugees about living conditions in Bong Districts, existing school and health facilities, security, the rule of law, actions taken during property disputes, operating NGO's and projects. The importance of the recently launched District Development Committee was highlighted and the existing UNHCR Community Empowerment Projects (CEPs) were described. The delegation made it clear that they only came to inform refugees and that by no means they were forced to go home, since UNHCR's repatriation exercise is a voluntary one.
The refugees on their side took the opportunity to ask questions and express their concerns about coming back. Security issues are still ranking on top of their concern list. News about ritualistic killings and ongoing rape cases in Liberia have reached the refugee camps and are scaring its population.
Aside from this, the refugee's community was highly interested to know how long they would be provided with UNHCR' s assistance after their return, whether and if they would find jobs in their districts, where to find assistance for the vulnerable and what chances are being provided for women, heading a household.
Furthermore they expressed their dismay that ex-combatants have been granted with 300 U$ while they would just receive return packages and a 5 U$ transport allowance, a fact they consider unfair.
Finally, leaders of the refugee camps wanted to get detailed information about peace-workshops and whether reconciliation is really given a place and a chance in today's Liberian society.
Meanwhile, refugees from Lofa and Nimba Counties are awaiting similar go-and-tell-visits which UNHCR is in the process to facilitate.
2. New programs for returnees to urban areas
While most attention is usually given to returnees coming back to rural areas such as Lofa, Bomi, Bong, Grand Cape Mount, Nimba, Grand Gedeh or Maryland Counties, Montserrado is often forgotten. Profiles of refugees living currently in the capitals of Countries of Asylum indicate, that up to 20 per cent of them have the intention to return back to Monrovia. The major group of expected returnees is consisting of single mothers who have made their living so far through informal employment or micro trading.
UNHCR and its Implementing Partners is currently enhancing its assistance to this specific group of returnees, by designing effective programs for both, single mothers and their children, in order to empower them. Besides providing them with counseling and legal support, Micro Grants, Vocational Trainings, Adult Literacy programs and Community Apprenticeship Programs (CAPs) are only a few of the projects to be implemented during the coming months.
3. Over 7, 000 returnees from Cote d' Ivoire assisted
UNHCR's Fieldoffice Zwedru in Grand Gedeh, has received 2, 567 Liberian returnees from Cote d' Ivoire since 27 June, who chose to come back through the facilitated repatriation operation, while the monitored number of spontaneous returnees is an estimated 12, 000. The office is currently receiving three convoys per week with returnees mostly heading back to Nimba County.
Harper, Maryland, and Zwedru together have assisted 7, 157 Liberian returnees in the past four weeks. The sudden return of returnees from Cote d' Ivoire is partly a result from the growing political instability in Liberia' s neighboring country. While returnees through Zwedru tend to proceed to Nimba County, returnees to Maryland usually settle near Harper city.
So far 32, 619 returnees have been repatriated by UNHCR since October 2004 and over 192,000 IDPs have been assisted to return home.