UN halts Ivorian refugee returns

2013-03-28 19:33
(Gaël Turine, MSF)

(Gaël Turine, MSF)

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Monrovia - The United Nations refugee agency in Liberia said on Thursday it has halted its voluntary repatriation programme for displaced Ivorians because of growing violence at the countries' volatile border.

Liberia hosts more than 62 000 Ivorian refugees, mostly in camps, who fled following Ivory Coast's civil unrest in April 2011 that led to the ousting of president Laurent Gbagbo.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said in a statement that a convoy of 400 refugees en route to the border was forced to return following reports of a "security incident", a few days ago.

"The UNHCR has expressed concern over recent security incidents in [Ivory Coast] that have marred the facilitated voluntary repatriation of Ivorian refugees in Liberia," it said.

Several Liberian army units were deployed to border posts between the two countries last year to counter armed gangs raiding the Ivorian side from Liberia.

The groups have targeted western Ivory Coast since the end of the country's 2010-2011 crisis, which left 3 000 dead in the wake of a disputed presidential election.

Abidjan has accused exiles loyal to Gbagbo of being behind the raids, claims they deny.

In an ambush in southwest Ivory Coast in June last year, 18 people died, including seven United Nations peacekeepers from Niger.

Over the past three months the UNHCR and the Liberia Refugee Repatriation and Resettlement Commission have organised the voluntary return of more than 5 500 Ivorians and expect to have repatriated 16 000 by the end of the year.

"Last year the repatriation exercise was interrupted following the killing of seven UN peacekeepers in June on the Ivorian side of the border," the statement quoted Unicef's Liberia representative as saying.

"For this year, security concerns have once again interrupted the repatriation exercise. This is a serious setback."

Read more on:    unhcr  |  unicef  |  laurent gbagbo  |  liberia  |  ivory coast  |  west africa
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