Preparing mass repatriation UN refugee chief to visit West Africa

With West Africa now at the centre of a huge repatriation movement as hundreds of thousands of people uprooted by long-running civil wars return home, the head of the United Nations refugee agency begins a six-day mission to the region on Sunday for talks with all sectors, ranging from presidents to the returnees themselves.The four-nation tour will take UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Ruud Lubbers first to Guinea and then on to Sierra Leone, Liberia and Côte d’Ivoire, all of them torn in recent years by civil war or unrest and flooded with refugee influxes from each other.Mr. Lubbers is scheduled to meet with Heads of State, top government and UN officials in the region, refugees, returnees, UNHCR’s implementing partners and staff. In Sierra Leone, he is expected to visit areas of the country where refugees have returned, seeing first-hand how they are faring. UNHCR’s voluntary repatriation programme there ended in mid-2004, with some 280,000 refugees electing to return home.He will then cross the border to Liberia with a convoy of Liberian refugees returning home. UNHCR launched its voluntary repatriation programme for Liberian refugees last October. An expected 340,000 people are expected to be repatriated by the time the programme ends in 2007. Already, more than 6,000 Liberians have returned from neighbouring West African countries on regular convoys by land, sea and air.On his final stop Mr. Lubbers will visit neighbouring Côte d’Ivoire, which in November last year saw an exodus of refugees into Liberia. Some 10,000 were registered at the height of the crisis, which has now eased. read more

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