Tens of thousands of Liberian and Ivorian refugees will be returning to their respective home countries in the coming months, according to the International Organization for Migration.
About 15,000 Liberian refugees will be returning home from Ivory Coast, while another 15,000 Ivorian refugees are expected to return home from Liberia.
This crisscross operation has already begun, with hundreds of refugees already crossing borders, the IOM reports.
"I have had a peaceful existence here since my arrival in Liberia," one Ivorian returnee told the IOM. "But as you know, home is home. Now things are better at home, I need to return and re-build my life for the sake of my children."
There are as many as 24,000 Liberian refugees living in the Ivory Coast and about 79,000 Ivorian refugees still residing in Liberia, the IOM reports.
On June 30, Liberians in the Ivory Coast will no longer have legal refugee status, which entitles them to remain abroad legally with the aid of the U.N.’s refugee agency. The IOM says the 30,000 people they plan to repatriate will be home by the end of the year.
IOM spokesman Jumbe Omari Jumbe told Voice of America that the repatriation will be voluntary, and partially funded by the U.N.’s refugee agency and the World Food Program. Some Ivorian refugees are reluctant, fearing they will be in danger if they return home, he added.
"I cannot say that the fears are completely eliminated," said Jumbe. "There are pockets of places, which still — they tell us when we register them — some of them express that they cannot return. And that is why the whole exercise is voluntary."
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Most of the Ivorian refugees fled their country last year, after the disputed 2010 elections sparked violence at home. International aid organization Oxfam says as many as 400,000 people were displaced by the post-election clashes which killed hundreds. By the summer of 2011, more than 170,000 Ivorian refugees were estimated to be living in Liberia. Other Ivorians fled to Ghana, Mali, Burkina Faso and Guinea.
Since then, the security situation in the Ivory Coast has improved dramatically, and most refugees have returned home, VOA reports.
Liberian refugees have been living in the Ivory Coast much longer, after fleeing a civil war that broke out in the late 1980s, and continued off and on until 2005. About 250,000 people were killed in the conflict and thousands fled the country, according to the BBC. Today, Liberia's economy remains in ruins and about 15,000 U.N. troops police the country, in one of the world’s most expensive peacekeeping operations.
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