Thousands of Liberian Refugees to Resettle in U.S.
Monday, February 23, 2004; 3:51 PM
By Loucoumane Coulibaly
ABIDJAN (Reuters) - Thousands of Liberian refugees who fled
a 14-year civil war in the country founded by freed American
slaves will be resettled in the United States, the United
Nations refugee agency UNHCR said on Monday.
Sanda Kimbimbi, the UNHCR representative in Ivory Coast,
said most of the nearly 7,000 refugees had already reached the
former French colony's main city of Abidjan from the west of
the country and had been put up in reception centers and
All were expected to be in the United States by the middle
of May, he told Reuters.
Many Liberians have long felt the U.S. had a moral duty to
help end the conflict in their country.
"Our parents went into slavery in America. They helped
America develop. The U.S. has a moral debt to us. They
shouldn't just stand by, they should take us for free," a
27-year old mother of two, who asked not to be named, said at a
reception center in Abidjan.
Some 200,000 people were killed during the civil war and
more than 750,000, out of a total population of 3.3 million,
are estimated to have fled their homes.
During last summer's rebel siege of the capital Monrovia,
Liberians piled the bodies of civilians killed in mortar
attacks in front of the U.S. embassy to highlight their plight.
Many were disappointed that some 200 U.S. Marines from three
warships off Liberia's coast only came ashore briefly in
CHILDREN WITHOUT SCHOOL
Some 11,000 U.N. peacekeepers are now in Liberia to police
an August peace deal, although they have yet to reach all of
its interior, where gangs of armed youths still inspire terror.
"Our children have not been to school for almost ten years.
We've been promised work and lodging in the U.S. and we can't
wait for our departure day," said Amos Dagbe, 37, a father of
six who fled Liberia in 1990 and has been living in a reception
center for five months.
Those Liberians who fled east found themselves in a war
zone again when Ivory Coast descended into civil war after a
failed coup attempt in September 2002.
"Before war broke out in Ivory Coast we lived together well
with the Ivorians," said Eric Lockett, a 42-year old
shopkeeper. "But then things got difficult. We were afraid to
go out and couldn't find work."
Kimbimbi said the UNHCR had given a list of around 9,600
names to U.S. authorities, the vast majority of them Liberians
but some who had fled conflicts as far away as Burundi, Rwanda
He said U.S. immigration officials were interviewing the
candidates to check they were bona fide refugees. Those seen as
being most at risk were then given a medical check and shown
videos to prepare them for life in the United States.
"Not everyone will be accepted. We expect a rejection rate
of somewhere around 15-20 percent. A little over 2,000 have
already gone," Kimbimbi said, adding the program had been kept
under tight wraps to prevent a flood of applications.
"Knowing such a big operation was going on, you would have
people coming from Liberia who were not refugees. We even had
people coming from Ghana hoping they could get on the list."
Diplomats said although the United States was accepting the
largest number of refugees, some would go to other countries
including Norway and Sweden. (Additional reporting by Nick
Tattersall in Dakar)
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