Brenda Corlett, a Gambia based vessel, sails on Thursday with 300 Liberian refugee women, men and children in the first sea movement since UNHCR's policy shift to actively advocate voluntary repatriation for Liberian refugees.
This voyage, the fourth sea movement since the beginning of the voluntary repatriation exercise in 2004 but the first of the year, will take four days to arrive at its destination, the port of Monrovia.
It enhances a three-year programme launched by UNHCR in collaboration with host governments across West Africa, the Government of Liberia, UNHCR and IOM. The collective goal is to assist Liberian refugees to repatriate in safety and with dignity.
In this context, the Governments and UNHCR signed Tripartite Agreements in September 2004, to set the legal framework for the operation.
A key element in these Agreements is the emphasis placed on the voluntary nature of repatriation, as well as the commitment of all Parties to work together to take special measures to ensure that returnees receive adequate protection, assistance and care throughout the repatriation and reintegration process.
Upon arrival in Liberia, refugees receive an assistance package which includes opportunities for skills training, food, household items and basic tools to help them restart their lives.
While emphasizing their gratitude for the hospitality they experienced in Ghana, many of the refugees, mainly resident at Buduburam settlement for several years, are expressing their happiness to return home and see the streets of their capital lit up after fifteen years of darkness. Yet others have mixed feelings about what has become unknown territory after sixteen years in exile.
So far, with a combination of air and sea travel, UNHCR has assisted some 3,800 Liberian refugees to repatriate from Ghana, bringing the total repatriated with the organisation's assistance from the sub-region to some 73,000.
Voluntary repatriation for Liberian refugees continues with regular sea and air movements until June 2007, with the air movements targeting refugees with special needs. The next movement is an air charter for refugees with special needs next week to be followed by another sea movement the following week.
Ghana hosts some 38,000 Liberian refugees, who form the majority of the approximately 54,000 refugees in the country.