5 June 2007A repatriation convoy carrying some 250 Liberians from Sierra Leone is set to bring to over 100,000 the number returning home with United Nations assistance, the world body’s refugee agency said today. “The landmark convoy carrying 258 returning refugees will cross today from Sierra Leone into Liberia at Bo Waterside border crossing,” Jennifer Pagonis, a spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), told reporters in Geneva.Upon their arrival to Liberia from neighbouring countries and the region, refugees are provided with food and other essential items, as well as with vocational training to secure jobs in their new communities. Set to close by the end of this month, the effort will mark the largest repatriation in the West Africa region, according to Ms. Pagonis, who predicted that “many more Liberians” will return before the cut-off date of 30 June.Following the end of the organized repatriation, UNHCR is preparing, together with the countries still hosting thousands of Liberian refugees, to embark on long-term programmes aiming to achieve their local integration, Ms. Pagonis stated, noting that there are still some 83,000 Liberian refugees in West Africa.“The ultimate goal of these programmes will be to bring the displacement chapter in West Africa to a successful closure,” she stated.Since October, 2004 when the Liberian repatriation operation began, more than 150,000 refugees have returned to Liberia. In addition to 100,000 returns assisted by UNHCR – half of them from neighbouring Guinea – another 50,000 Liberian refugees returned home on their own over the past few years, encouraged by the restoration of peace and the inauguration of the democratically elected president and Government.Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf became the first female head of State in Africa during elections held with support from the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) in January, 2006. Her inauguration culminated a peace process begun in 2003. During that period, UNMIL supported national efforts to achieve the transition to democracy by providing a secure environment, disarming more than 100,000 ex-combatants, facilitating the return of tens of thousands of displaced persons and refugees, and helping organize the elections.Civil war in Liberia claimed the lives of almost 150,000 people – mostly civilians – and led to a complete breakdown of law and order. It displaced hundreds of thousands of people, both internally and beyond the borders, resulting in some 850,000 refugees in the neighbouring countries.