Accra, Oct 1, GNA - One hundred Liberian refugees were on Friday airlifted back home after a civil war in Liberia forced them to flee to Ghana in the early 1990s where they lived as refugees. The return of the refugees, who were airlifted aboard a commercial flight, marks the beginning of a three-year voluntary repatriation programme aimed at assisting Liberian refugees to return home safely and with dignity.
The programme is being organised by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in collaboration with the Government of Ghana; the National Transitional Government of Liberia and the International Organisation for Migration (IOM).
In an interview with Journalists, Mr Hackman Owusu-Agyemang, Minister of the Interior, said the ceremony underscored the changing situation in Liberia and that the refugees were going back home to help rebuild their country. He said Ghanaians had successfully hosted the more than 40,000 refugees in the face of limited financial resources to support them.
The Minister said Ghana had not relented in its effort to try to bring peace to Liberia, as President John Agyekum Kufuor was still talking to Liberian leaders in an effort to concretise the peace so far achieved.
Mr Thomas Albrecht, UNHCR Representative, expressed his appreciation to President Kufuor and the people of Ghana for playing host to the refugees, most of who had been traumatised by the events in their country. He said after this first flight, the operation would continue with a combination of safe sea and air transportation from Ghana in particular to Liberia.
Mr Albrecht said UNHCR, together with the governments of Ghana and Liberia, would take special measures to ensure that the returnees received adequate protection, assistance and care throughout the repatriation and integration exercise. He said transport and medical services were jointly organised by the UNHCR and IOM.
Upon arrival, the UNHCR would provide the returnees with an assistance package including food, household items and basic tools to support their integration.
The Acting Liberian Ambassador, Mr Andrew Kronyanh said the government of Liberia was also preparing to receive the returnees and would make their stay comfortable to ensure their integration. He said although the rebuilding of Liberia would take a while, he was of the hope that as the refugees returned home, they would put their shoulders to the wheel to ensure that Liberia returned to its past glory.
Some of the refugees that the GNA spoke to said they were hopeful of a peaceful Liberia where they could call their home. They urged those who were still sceptical about returning home that it was only Liberians who could rebuild their country. Madam Victoria Simpson, a 44 year old Nurse, who had been in Ghana for the past two years with her six children, remarked: "I am happy to be returning home to help build my own country by putting my profession to work."
Mr Jimmy Wilson, a 30-year old man who came to the country in 2000 and sold eggs, said he was very optimistic about his return to Liberia. Mr Wilson, who was returning with his nine-year old son, said although both of his parents were killed in the war, he hoped to meet his wife who was in Liberia and to continue with his education. "Although I may miss some friends back in Ghana, there is no place like home. I hope to go back to help build my country."