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Last Updated: Thursday, 27 May, 2004, 17:42 GMT 18:42 UK
Liberian refugees home after ordeal
Liberian refugees returning home to Monrovia
Most of the refugees stranded at sea were women and children
Liberian refugees have been arriving home in Monrovia to a jubilant welcome after their ordeal at sea.

The United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) was airlifting more than 300 of the passengers who were stranded off Ivory Coast last week.

"By the end of the day we expect that all of them will be home," a UNHCR official said.

The passengers left Nigeria in early May, but their ferry broke down 40km off the Ivorian coast.

Most were Liberian refugees, who had paid $150 each to be taken back to Liberia after the collapse of the regime of former President Charles Taylor.

They had been told it would be a three-day journey, and by the time they were rescued supplies of fresh food and water were running out.

There was no sanitation or medical treatment for the sick and exhausted people on board the Dona Elvira.

"My mother was crying and vomiting - thank God for bringing us here," Poryah Gaye, 5, said.

"I can't express my happiness at receiving them," her father said.

Repatriation row

The BBC's Jonathan Paye-Layleh in Monrovia says the Liberian government has expressed annoyance that refugees are not waiting for organised repatriation.

Earlier this week, it announced a ban on cargo ships entering the country with Liberian refugees, our correspondent says.

The decision was prompted by the dangerous methods of return, the head of the refugees' commission said.

Liberian refugees (archive)
Thousands of Liberians fled their country's recent civil war

Philip Dweye said individuals who arranged voluntary repatriation would face court action if their efforts resulted in a "single" lost life.

"Liberians are not cargos to be used for profits - they have suffered enough," he said.

"They need to be repatriated in honour and dignity."

A Dona Elvira survivor said that return had been their only option.

"Liberia is our home," Joseph Weah said.

"We could not just remain in exile. Life in exile is static, there are no jobs."

More than 300,000 Liberians fled more than a decade-long civil war for other states in West Africa.

The fighting which claimed the lives of an estimated 200,000 people, ended last year.

The UNHCR plans to start their repatriation in October, our correspondent says.

The BBC's Juliet Dunlop
"Over 300 people were crammed on board - most of them women and children"

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