Liberia: Ivorian Refugees’ Host Communities in Nimba Demand Compensation from UNHCR
BUUTUO, Nimba- Nimba County located in the north-central portion of Liberia is the second most populous of Liberia’s 15 political subdivisions. Bordering the County are the Ivory Coast and the Republic of Guinea. Nimba, amongst other counties has been hosting Ivorian refugees from 2002 till now.
Report by Rita Jlogbe Doue, Contributing Writer
According to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, Nimba has supported 64 percent of Ivorian nationals seeking refuge in Liberia.
The UN Refugee Agency started what it calls its “Voluntary Repatriation” of Ivorian refugees in July 2021, and records show that over 31 thousand people have been repatriated to their home country. And of that number, more than 19 thousand were sent home from over 26 communities in Nimba County.
The United Nations High Commission for Refugees has announced that the status of Ivorian refugees will be terminated on 30th June, 2022 when most of the refugees have returned to their home country.
On June 18, 2022, the UNHCR’s High Commissioner, Filippo Grandi, arrived in Liberia to oversee the repatriation of one of the final batches of refugees which saw off 268 people including women and children. A program was organized by UNHCR and the Liberia Refugees Repatriation Resettlement Commission (LRRRC) which also attended the ceremony.
The UNHCR High Commissioner extended appreciations to the local community and the Liberian government for hosting Ivorian refugees till the time of their return home.
Grandi said “To the government and people of Liberia, I am very grateful for the hospitality that you have provided to the refugees for two decades, I know that you have not had an easy history yourself and it is an example to the whole world that you have extended hospitality, protection and support. The local communities in particular have shared small resources with refugee brothers and sisters from nearby.”
But for the locals, “thank you” alone is not enough. They say they are disappointed in the UNHCR for leaving the communities without any substantial improvements. According to the residents, they lost several livelihoods while hosting refugee families.
70-year-old Annie Quelleh is the Council Chief Chairlady and women leader in Buutuo, Zoegeh district. Madam Quelleh said the host communities made enormous sacrifices in providing comfort for refugees, noting that they expect some infrastructural developments in return of their kind deeds.
“The refuges came here plenty we put hand under them. All these women you see here, when I say your move from your sleeping place, they move from there and refugees enter there. The rice, cassava in the farm (has) finished and we have no benefit from UNHCR. Nimba is not like before, we don’t have good water; all the pumps (have) spoiled, we don’t have toilets, no women center; we have our meetings under the tree.” Quelleh claimed.
In 2011 United Nations High Commission for Refugees and the Danish Refugee Council through the government of Liberia repaired a 78 kilometer stretch of road connecting Saclepea, Bahn and Buutuo. The Project saw the placement of 19 concrete culverts and the construction of at least five bridges along the Saclepea-Buutuo route. This was meant to ease challenges which hampered urgent transportation and delivery of humanitarian assistance to refugees hosting communities.
But James Ballie, a member of the communities’ elder council disclosed that the infrastructures have spoiled.
“Previously when the Ivorian People came here, we saw our roads; those ugly bridges we saw UN constructing them but now you can see how the road is looking,” Ballie lamented . “The culverts they laid years ago, those culverts are all damaged. Besides that, we don’t have good toilets; we expected the UN to at least build toilets for us, build water pumps; the pumps we had all spoiled. It is our surprise today (for them) to just leave the community without anything to point at.”
Aretha Divine is the Deputy Director for Administration at the Liberia Refugees Repatriation Resettlement Commission. Divine also joined the call of the residents and she is pleading with the UN Agency to reward host communities.
“Please consider the host community who has opened arms to these people,” Devine pleaded. “They expect some livelihoods in return of saying thank you that your brothers and friends came to you hopeless and you did not put them aside.”
The United Nations High Commissioner has not responded to the request made by the locals.
Meanwhile, a refugee camp in the same county has been transformed into a refugee settlement. The settlement, situated at the entrance of Bahn city, 50 kilometers away from the Liberia/Ivory Coast border is benefiting 93 housing units, a health facility and an Elementary and Junior High School.
The project was implemented by the LRRRC with support from the United Nations High Commission for Refugees and the Danish Refugee Council. According to authorities at the UN Refugee Agency, 80 percent of the housing units will be occupied by refugees who will locally integrate while the remaining 20 percent will be owned by citizens of the community.
Since the beginning of the Voluntary Repatriation from in July 2021, the UNHCR has repatriated to Côte d’Ivoire over 8,041 households consisting of 31,952 people. The voluntary repatriation process is being conducted from three counties; Nimba, Maryland and River Gee Counties.
The Ivorian internal conflicts of 2002-2007 and 2011-2012 each resulted in large-scale civilian displacement inside and outside the country. From December 2010 to late February 2011, post-election violence displaced thousands of Ivorians. A third displacement happened from mid-2020 to early 2021 during which Ivorians fled in anticipation of potential violence associated with elections.