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Liberian War Refugees in Israel: U.N. says Time to Go "Home"

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By John E. Carey
February 9, 2007

It seems sometimes that there is violence between Christians and Muslims in almost every corner of the world.

Sadly, Civil Wars, tribal feuding and other strife creates migrations and refugees seeking safety and freedom.

In Israel, ninety refugees from war torn Liberia that have been living in safety there for seventeen years are being told by the United nations that they must return to their African home.

These people truly stand out in Israel: they are Muslims, refugees, Liberians and Black Africans of the Mandingo tribe.

War torn Liberia has suffered through more than 15 years of Civil War since 1989. The first Liberian Civil War lasted from 1989 until 1996. The second Liberian Civil War lasted from 1999 until 2003.Much of the violence was from the majority tribe, the Krhin, upon the minority tribes like the Mandingo. There was also violence between religions, the Muslims and Christians, further complicating the situation.

After being told, "I will put your heart in my soup and eat it," Kenneh, who now lives in Israel, walked for three weeks to the Ivory Coast. Then he took a boat to Egypt and finally walked into Israel. In Israel he fell under the protection of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) because Liberia was considered "unsafe country."

But in 2004 the Liberian civil war officially ended with the overthrow of president Charles Taylor, and the UN sent a peace-keeping force of 15,000 troops to restore order. Last year, a new president of Liberia, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, was chosen in democratic elections.Today, the UN has said order has largely been restored and refugees are safe to return. Many nations like Israel, who allow UNHCR refugees to live and work within their borders, will ask them to leave once the UN declares their point of origin again safe.

The problem, most refugees say, is that they will never again be safe in their homeland.One Liberian refugee in Israel said, "Nigeria is not safe for anyone who fought for Taylor," he said. "People who suffered during his rule want revenge. Some of my friends have already been killed."

Israel has said the refugees must return to Liberia by March 31 but the government will allow each to appeal his case separately on the grounds of exceptional personal circumstances.

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John E. Carey is the former president of International Defense Consultants, Inc.

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