liberian ref 298 88 .
(photo credit: Courtesy)
With one month to go before almost all of the 90 Liberian refugees living in Israel are forced to return home, Liberia has asked the Foreign Ministry to let them to stay here longer, a lawyer representing the refugees said on Tuesday.
Tel Aviv attorney Ari Syrquin, who has been retained by the refugees to help them fight the deportation orders, produced a letter allegedly written by the Liberian foreign ministry late last week.
"The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Liberia has the honor to request the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the State of Israel to extend the temporary protective status granted a Liberian community of 90 refugees who have been residing in the State of Israel since the onset of the Liberian civil crisis while appropriate arrangements are made for their voluntary repatriation to Liberia or resettlement to a third state of their choice," wrote Liberia's acting foreign minister, William Bull.
A Foreign Ministry spokesman in Jerusalem said the matter was being examined.
The refugees arrived via Egypt after fleeing their homes because of the violence in Liberia. In many cases, the lives of individual refugees were specifically threatened.
The troubles started in 1989, following the overthrow of Liberian president Samuel Doe and the accession of Charles Taylor. During the next 14 years, two civil wars were fought in Liberia.
The fighting officially ended in 2003, and two years later, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf was elected president in democratic elections. Before that, some 15,000 UN troops were deployed in Liberia to keep the peace. The force is still there.
After the war broke out in 1989, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Geneva (UNHCR) asked countries to grant temporary asylum to refugees from Nigeria until peace was restored to the country. In view of recent developments, the UNHCR decided to remove Liberia from its list of unsafe countries.
In June, the UNHCR representative in Israel, Michael Bavly, followed suit by announcing that the organization was withdrawing its request to for Israel to grant temporary protective status to the refugees. In turn, the Interior Ministry informed the refugees that they were no longer protected and must leave the country by March 31.
The refugees say that despite the democratic elections and the presence of UN forces in Liberia, the situation there is far from secure and their lives would still be in danger if they returned.
The leader of the group, Ayoub Kenneh, said he knows the name of the person who threatened his life and forced him to flee his country in the first place.
According to Syrquin, the Liberian government does not want all the refugees to return at once because of the strain it would create on the state budget and the economy.
Bull hinted at that attitude when he wrote that "to ensure the safety and security of Liberian citizens in the State of Israel pending the conclusion of an acceptable process of repatriation, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Liberia would appreciate it were the Liberian refugees in Israel given the usual kind of protection of the government of the State of Israel."