The Country Representative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Khassim Diagne has lauded the government and people of Liberia for showing hospitality to Ivorian refugees who entered the country in 2011.
Mr. Diagne who expects to leaving Liberia in two weeks from said in an interview with the Daily Observer yesterday that when Ivorian refugees sought refuge in Liberia as a result of their post-election violence, Liberians in the three counties of Nimba, Grand Gedeh and Maryland opened their doors to them.
He made specific mention of the Ministries of Foreign and Internal Affairs, and the Liberia Refugees Repatriation and Reintegration Commission (LRRRC) for their efforts to create an acceptable environment for the refugees and the UNHCR.
Mr. Diagne said humanitarian roles by the government and citizens make Liberia a pleasant country, and made their work easy.
Reflecting on Liberia’s role in the refugee agency, the UNHCR boss said Liberia is a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention, the AU Convention on Refugees and has a cooperation agreement with the UNHCR.
“When I came to Liberia in 2013, 65,000 out of 220,000 Ivorian refugees had left Liberia as a result of voluntary repatriation. From 65,000 there are 38,000 remaining now as I prepare to leave Liberia,” he noted.
He attributed the failure to complete their repatriation to the Ebola crisis which caused the Ivorian government to close its borders with Liberia.
“If it were not Ebola, we would have repatriated all the refugees and closed the refugee program, or the remaining number would have been less than it is,” he said.
Counting UNHCR’s successes in Liberia, Mr. Diagne said it targeted to repatriate 16,000 refugees but added 20,000. Furthermore, he said with support from the Liberian government they were able to prevent the deadly Ebola from entering the refugee camps in the three counties.
He also indicated that in 2011 there were six refugee camps in Liberia, but was able to consolidate and closed three down.
He added that UNHCR was also able to provide sustainable skills to refugees that will not have to depend on international non-governmental organizations for support.
He counted on the prevalence of Ebola in Liberia and the surrounding countries as the main challenge because it prevented the voluntary repatriation to meet the targeted goal.
The UNHCR Country Representative also named decline in financial support as a challenge during his tour of duty, explaining that when the refugee crisis reaches a peak and begins to diminish, financial support diminishes as well.
Moreover, Mr. Diagne noted that it is difficult for them to work during the rainy season because they cannot easily have access to the camps or even repatriate refugees.
Commenting on what could be a solution to reducing refugee crisis on the continent of Africa, the UNHCR Representative said political crisis that once served as a condition for refugee crisis is diminishing.
He, however, indicated that the new phenomena are terrorism, sabotage and economic migration.
Citing some references, Mr. Diagne pointed out terrorism groups, including Boko Haram, al-Shabab, Al-Qaeda movement in northern Mali and migrations of many Africans from the continent to Europe as some conditions that result to refugee crisis.
He urged the AU to exert effort to stabilize the condition as political weight in increasing refugees is diminishing and replaced by terrorist activities.
Meanwhile, Mr. Diagne will be leaving Liberia for Cameroon and will be based in Yaoundé.