By 2004, 15 years of civil conflict in Liberia had dispersed some 350,000 Liberian refugees across West Africa. About one third, 117,000, returned to Liberia spontaneously through 2004 and 2005 after the peace agreement and deployment of UN peacekeepers. Following elections in October 2005 and the improving prospects for peace and recovery, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) began actively promoting and assisting voluntary repatriation from camps and communities in neighbouring countries. Up to July 2006, 71,000 refugees were assisted to return home, leaving a residual case load of 162,000, of whom 38,000 are in Côte d’Ivoire, mainly integrated with local communities, rather than living in camps. While the rate of return this year has been initially slower than forecast, it is expected to accelerate markedly with the approaching end of the agricultural season and continued investment in basic services in Liberian home communities. UNHCR predict that 70 per cent. of the remaining refugees will have returned home by June 2007.
The closure of the transit centre in Tabou, Côte d’Ivoire, is a positive move. It had housed 2,400 refugees for several years, though it was designed as a temporary shelter for arriving asylum seekers. Its closure, made possible by the residents finding alternative living and livelihood arrangements in local communities, is good for their dignity and well-being, and signifies the diminished likelihood of further influxes of refugees.
Between 2002 and 2005, DFID provided about £1 million p.a. to support the care and maintenance of Liberian refugees in camps across the region. DFID has also invested significantly in Liberia over the last three years to encourage and assist refugees to return home. £3.5 million p.a. has been allocated to support the restoration of basic infrastructure and services (health, water, sanitation, shelter, education) as well as boosting livelihood prospects. In addition, in 2005 and 2006, DFID has provided £2 million to UNHCR to support the voluntary repatriation of refugees from Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea, Sierra Leone and Ghana.