After years of stay in refugee life in Liberia, Ivorian refugees at various camps are contemplating returning home to re-establish their lives.
The desire to return home was disclosed to heads of the UN Refugees Agency (UNHCR) through Ivorian Refugee Chairperson, Patrice Gnombie on June 20 during observance of World Refugee Day.
According to Gnombie, the need to go back home is in response to an earlier call by their President, Allasane Ouattara to return and contribute to the rebuilding of their country gravely affected by war.
In his remark during the occasion, Refugee Chairman Patrice Gnombie said “Today we have answered our President’s call to return home.” His statement was greeted with loud applause. The observance of World Refugees Day was climaxed at Liberia’s largest PTP Refugee Camp which hosts more than 15,000 Ivorian refugees.
President Ouattara, during his visit to Liberia last year, appealed to his compatriots to return home. He stressed that their country needed them.
Reemphasizing the Ivorian leader’s plea, Mr. Gnombie told his compatriots, “It is now time to return to Côte d’Ivoire.”
The Ivorian refugees poured into Liberia in 2011 as a result of a bloody civil war that destroyed lives and properties. The war began in September 2002 following the killing of former Military leader Gaye Robert. The northern city of Bouke was attacked.
The war intensified when former President Laurent Gbagbo refused to turn over power to the declared winner of the presidential election, Alassane Ouattara.
The war became tribal, with supporters of former President Gbagbo’s ethnic group pitted against those of Ouattara’s, and there were indiscriminate killings from both ends.
Survivors that were close to the Liberian border fled to Liberia where their Liberian brothers and sisters wholeheartedly welcomed them. In many instances there were close marriage or or genealogical links between the Liberians and the Ivorians.
To have the assurance of surviving upon returning, the Representative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Khassim Diagne, informed refugees about reintegration activities in Côte d’Ivoire. He noted, “We will continue to work with the Governments of Liberia and Côte d’Ivoire to assist Ivorian refugees to return home and to ensure that their return is sustainable.”
Also speaking, the keynote speaker, Chairman of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on refugee matters in Liberia, Hon. Alex C. Grant, said he was a refugee in Nigeria for 8 years before returning home. “I returned from Nigeria in 1998. I came back home to contribute to the development of my country. Take advantage of the voluntary repatriation programme and return home to improve your lives,” he urged.
Receiving a warm reception from his compatriots, Ivorian Ambassador, His Excellency Kapieletien Soro thanked the Government and people of Liberia for hosting Ivorian refugees, but stressed that peace and stability have been restored to Côte d’Ivoire and that it was now time they went back home. “There are more opportunities awaiting you and your children at home than in refugee camps,” he said.
The Executive Director of the Liberia Refugee Repatriation and Resettlement Commission (LRRRC), Cllr. Abla G. Williams, and Lonestar MTN Communication Executive Director, Dr. Laurence Bropleh, also attended the ceremony.
The UN Mission in Liberia, Lonestar MTN and Kenya Airways supported this year’s celebration. They donated items such as books, trophies and T-shirts were presented to refugees. UNHCR also donated a television set and its accessories to enable refugees watch the 2014 Football World Cup, via satellite, in which Côte d’Ivoire is competing.
World Refugee Day was also marked at Brewerville in Monrovia, Bahn Refugee Camp in Nimba and Little Wlebo Refugee Camp in Maryland County. Liberia currently hosts 44,172 refugees, asylum seekers and other persons of concern, including 41, 111 Ivorian refugees.