Accra, May 12, GNA - The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), in collaboration with the Government of Ghana, the Government of Liberia and the International Organization for Migration (IOM), is organizing the first charter flight to Liberia since UNHCR's policy shift to actively promote voluntary repatriation to Liberia.
The flight, which leaves Accra on Friday with 200 refugees, includes women, children, elderly and physically challenged persons returning to various counties in Liberia after having sought refuge in Ghana for periods ranging from four to sixteen years.
A statement from the UNHCR in Accra said the decision to initiate active promotion of voluntary repatriation was taken in February this year by the High Commissioner Antonio Guterres after a careful review of conditions in Liberia.
"This decision was prompted by the positive changes taking place in Liberia since the departure of Charles Taylor in August 2003. Until mid-February this year, UNHCR was 'facilitating' voluntary return, but was not advocating it," it said.
"After years of war, much still remains to be done to rebuild the country. But already there are heart-warming signs of development and considerable progress, including in the areas of disarmament, security and human rights.
"The successful election and subsequent inauguration of President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf in January were notable milestones in a process of democratisation and stabilisation that started in Liberia nearly three years ago."
UNHCR said overall, favourable conditions were in place for the estimated 160,000 Liberian refugees still outside their homeland to return to their country in safety and dignity. It said internally displaced persons formerly sheltered in camps in Liberia had returned home, indicating the confidence in the security apparatus operating in the country.
Out of the estimated 340,000 Liberian refugees registered in countries of asylum at the end of 2003, some 180,000 of them have already gone home since the start of the voluntary repatriation operation on 1 October August 2004.
Of those, over 63,000 returned with the help of UNHCR's voluntary repatriation programme, which began in October 2004, with 3,221 returning from Ghana to date.
Upon arrival, refugees receive an assistance package which includes food, household items and basic tools to support their reintegration. All of these measures are aimed at providing Liberian refugees with the opportunity to rebuild their lives back home in a sustainable manner. The new President has appealed to all Liberian refugees to come home, saying she sees their return and reintegration as a priority for her government.
Ghana hosts some 39,000 Liberian refugees, who form the majority of the 60,000 refugees in the country.