In July 2021, AIRD in partnership with UNHCR and other implementing partners in Liberia began the facilitation of voluntary repatriation for Ivorian refugees and asylum seekers who have chosen to return home to the Ivory Coast.
AIRD as the logistics partner supports with the safe and dignified transportation of Ivorian refugees as they make their journey home, and also oversees their short stay at transit centres through general care and feeding before the final departure to their country.
The state of affairs in the Ivory Coast
Tens of thousands of Ivorians fled their country between 2010 and 2011 when violent conflict divided the nation along party lines following disputed results of the presidential elections. Refusal of Laurent Gbagbo to cede power to Alassane Ouattara led to a civil war that triggered massive displacement and over 3,000 deaths. Gbagbo was subsequently sent to the international Criminal Court for crimes against humanity. His acquittal in 2019 and return to the Ivory Coast on June 17, 2021 has given hope to many that lasting peace may prevail, especially given the warm welcome he and others that were exiled have received from President Ouattara.
Many of those who fled as refugees have since returned to the Ivory Coast. As at the end of 2020, UNHCR reported that of the approximately 224,000 who fled the violence in 2010/2011, only some 8,100 remain. Many of those that remain are also considering a return.
The safe passage home
On July 23, 2021, the first repatriation convoy facilitated by AIRD was organized from Saclepea, Bahn settlement with 123 refugees in 32 households.
Subsequent repatriation convoys were organized by AIRD in three locations of operations; from Saclepea Nimba county, Grand Gedeh County and lastly from River Gee and Maryland counties via the Prollo border.
Left: An AIRD truck driver helps refugees disembark at a border
Much planning and coordination is required with several partners and agencies before repatriation activities can begin. These activities present challenges during “normal” times, but even more so in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. AIRD as the UNHCR logistics and shelter partner works with health partners to ensure COVID-19 tests are administered to refugees and asylum seekers who have expressed interest in being repatriated. Any positive cases are then taken to treatment centres by the UNHCR health partners.
The fleet of trucks and light vehicles involved in the journey are maintained and fuelled a day before the movement in AIRD workshops and fuel stations. Mechanics are often onboard the trucks in readiness for any mechanical issues. AIRD trucks and personnel are pre-positioned, and ensure luggage is loaded on the truck marked for luggage a day before the journey.
The roads leading to the Ivory Coast have also proved to be extremely challenging on occasion, and particularly during the rainy season. It is therefore absolutely crucial that AIRD teams assess all road conditions well in advance of departure.
Right: A deplorable road at Toe’s Town Border. An AIRD Repatriation officer assesses the road condition ahead of the convoy
At the Prollo border point, the Callava River which separates both countries often floods and has caused several cancellations and reschedules in the recent past.
When conditions are good, however, displaced persons making the journey home are able to board a ferry with lifejackets for safety, alongside trucks and light vehicles that will transport them on arrival.
Above: Preparing to cross the Callava River on board a ferry
From June to August 2021, the AIRD Liberia team has supported the safe and compassionate return of over 5,574 displaced persons from 1,546 households. They will continue to work hand in hand with other partners to ensure that those wishing to return to their home country are able to do so in as dignified a condition as possible.