Stranded Liberian Brought Home

By: I. Solo Kelgbeh

The Inquirer
Monrovia, Liberia

Distributed by

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

Posted April 26, 2004

The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) repatriated 229 stranded Liberians last Saturday and Sunday on humanitarian grounds.

The first batch of 41 persons arrived at the Airfield at 12:38 p.m. onboard a 42-seater De Harilland DHC 7 Aircraft. Another batch came aboard a United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) Antanov-72 Aircraft.

The refugees were evacuated from Bamako, Mali following two months of difficulties in Sikasso. The refugees and other Liberian traders were returning home from Ghana but were denied passage when they reached the Guinean border with Mali.

According to the Spokesman of the returning refugees, Roosevelt Forh, they were accused of being mercenaries. Most of the returnees are children and women. In separate interviews, the refugees said they went through a turbulent time due to the refusal of the Guinean authorities to let them pass through.

They accused UNHCR in Mali of not coming to their rescue or providing for them until after three days at the border.

Upon their arrival at the Spriggs Payne airfield, UNHCR-Liberia provided mats, food and other relief. Some of the returnees were immediately reunited with their family.

In a related development, the NTGL Chairman Charles Gyude Bryant and UN Secretary General’s Special Representative to Liberia, Jacques Paul Klein have cautioned Liberian refugees about any form of spontaneous return.

Speaking separately last Saturday at the James Sprigs Payne Airfield during formal program marking the official return of several stranded Liberian refugees and traders, the two called on Liberians wanting to come home to coordinate properly with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) and the Liberia Repatriation, Resettlement and Reintegration Commission (LRRRC) before attempting to do so.

Amb. Klein, commending United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) for repatriating the Liberians, also lauded the efforts of the refugees for their courage and determination to come home.

The UNMIL boss maintained that the desire of Liberian refugees to come home demonstrates a high degree of love for their country and their families. He said the return is also a concrete testimony that peace has returned to Liberia. In welcoming the returnees home, Amb. Klein said the United Nations Mission in Liberia was moved by their plight and the suffering they went through.

For his part, Chairman Bryant thanked the UN for the safe arrival of the returnees. “Few weeks ago, I was deeply troubled when I heard about your plight. Immediately this news reached us, we began to contact the relevant authorities in Guinea and Mali for your safety. Thank God that you are finally here”, Chairman Bryant said.

He however, asked the returning refugees to tell their friends that they have reached safely.

“Tell your friends to send us early notice when they decide to come home, so that we will be able to discuss with neighboring countries for their safe passage”, Chairman Bryant lamented the inhumane treatment the refugees experienced.

Mr. Moses Okello, UNHCR Country Representative said, his agency will do what it can to provide the basic needs of the returnees and ensure that they are properly reunited with the families.

He also warned against spontaneous repatriation but called on Liberians to wait for voluntary repatriation exercise.

© 2004: This article is copyrighted by The Inquirer newspaper (Monrovia, Liberia) and distributed by The Perspective (Atlanta, Georgia). All rights reserved.