An election crisis, a civil war and numerous human rights violations have sent thousands of Ivorians fleeing into Liberia. Since 2010, thousands of refugees have left the embattled Ivory Coast for other countries to escape political violence and abuse. These refugees have found reception in Liberia since they were displaced by the political crisis and those still displaced are eager to return home and begin reconciliation and the rebuilding of lives.

The Ivorian crisis began at the end of 2010 following the contested presidential election which was supposed to occur in 2005, but had been postponed for nearly five years. The election caused months of instability, abuse and outbreaks of violence in the country. The chaos that emerged from the election meltdown left hundreds dead and thousands displaced from their homes.

By the end of July 2011, the numbers of refugees fleeing the Ivory Coast exceeded more than 400,000 people who remained displaced from their home. This figure accounts for those displaced either within the Ivory Coast or within neighboring countries. Most who fled went to Liberia where about 171,000 refugees were housed within hosting communities and in camps. As of November, the Republic of Liberia had 57,724 registered refugees coupled with a national statistic of 19,964 households for perspective.

As of July, more than 10,000 Ivorians have returned home from Liberia with help from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR); this figure is almost double the figure for the whole of 2012. The limited resources of the Liberian government and the needs of Liberian citizens only one reason is why remaining a refugee in Liberia is unsustainable. Those who are displaced deserve the right to return home and return to their lives.

The road home for many Ivorian refugees had begun with the assistance of the United Nations.

The U.N. refugee agency working in collaboration with the Liberia Refugee Repatriation and Resettlement Commission and other partners, has been organizing road convoys for those seeking to return home. More than two years after fleeing post-election violence in Côte d’Ivoire means much has changed and much has been lost. The progression out of war into peace begins with a redress of rights and the return of those displaced.

This year has seen success in repatriation of Ivorian refugees. “Last year, we facilitated the repatriation of more than 6,000 refugees. For this year, our planning figure is to facilitate the repatriation of 16,000 refugees,” said UNHCR Officer-in-Charge Andrew Mbogori while thanking donors for their support of the  repatriation efforts.

“With 10,000 refugees repatriated over the past seven months, notwithstanding border security concerns a few months ago, we are definitely on track to attain our target,” he added.

The repatriation process has been interrupted by violent attacks on villages on the Ivorian side of the border. Border security has been a high U.N. concern as physically crossing borders safely back home is the goal of repatriation. Improvements in security have encouraged more people to return home and more security is still needed.

Besides the physical barriers of dangerous border crossings, refugees are also at the whim of nature and seasonal rains. These challenges have brought together aid agencies to enact road rehabilitation services which can guarantee passage and be maintained by security forces.

Once they have successfully returned to Côte d’Ivoire, former refugees will receive a cash grant, food and essential non-food items.

There are still remaining refugees waiting to return. There is still much to be done, and further security required providing the necessary platform for successful peace building endeavors. Security can only truly be reached when all parties participate and when aid organizations are able to freely operate within the application of restorative justice.

Nina Verfaillie
Feature Writer

Sources: Oxfam International, UNHCR, The UN Refugee Agency
Photo: National Geographic