For Liberian refugees, mission accomplished?

The Kamara family fled Liberia in 2002. They are now among the 155,000 refugees that have been repatriated since 2004. Photo by: R. Ochlik / UNHCR

The United Nations refugees agency has completed its voluntary repatriation program for Liberians who fled their country during the civil war - but new challenges may be right around the corner.

More than 155,000 Liberian refugees are now back in the country, the agency said in a Jan. 4 press release. The last convoy included 724 refugees and arrived from Guinea to Liberia on the last weekend of 2012. This officially marked the end of a program that began in 2004, a year after a peace accord in Liberia was brokered.

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and government are both providing assistance to help these Liberians restart their lives back home.

UNHCR gives a grant of $375 to each returnee aged above 18 and $275 to those below 18. The gross national income per capita in Liberia currently stands at $240.

Meanwhile, the government, through the Liberia Repatriation and Resettlement Commission refers returnees to job opportunities, provides them with scholarships, cooperates with government ministries to hire returnees with certain skills, render support to those needing plots of land outside the Montserrado County, the region housing the capital Monrovia, and acquire them free of charge. It currently operates a program to develop skills of 180 returnees in agriculture.

Despite these efforts, some Liberian refugees have opted to stay where they are. They are reportedly worried about their future back in their homeland, citing the remaining presence of peacekeepers as evidence of continued instability in Liberia.

Also, the realities in Liberia don’t look promising. Poverty remains high and so is unemployment, particularly among the youth.

The administration of President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf has recognize the serious employment problem and made it a priority in an action plan for the first 150 days of her second term.

The action plan aims to guide the work of the government as it crafts its five-year poverty reduction strategy and long-term vision. In December, the administration hosted a national conference to conclude the design phase for what is being dubbed Liberia Vision 2030. It involved more than 500 representatives from the country’s 15 counties, youth groups, civil society organizations, political parties, the private sector, the Liberian diaspora and observers from the international community.

The World Bank is also preparing its strategy for Liberia, which it has said to include a focus on job creation and employment, especially for the youth, and which should also address issues on land tenure, access to credit, and skills development to satisfy the needs of private businesses. According to the bank, the new country program strategy for Liberia will cover fiscal 2013-2016; it was scheduled to be presented to the board in mid-December 2012.

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About the author

  • Eliza Villarino

    Eliza Villarino currently manages one of today’s leading publications on humanitarian aid, global health and international development, the weekly GDB. At Devex, she has helped grow a global newsroom, with talented journalists from major development hubs such as Washington, D.C, London and Brussels. She regularly writes about innovations in global development.