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Liberia: Start relocation operation

Briefing notes

Liberia: Start relocation operation

12 September 2003

UNHCR participated in the start yesterday of an operation to relocate some 30,000 internally displaced people who have been staying in 56 central Monrovia schools and a clinic since fleeing into the city during recent fighting in and around the capital. They are being relocated to IDP camps in the Montserrado area on the outskirts of the capital.

The inter-agency effort started with more than 100 people who returned to the Wilson and Jahtondo IDP camps in Montserrado. Over the past weeks, UNHCR has worked very closely with the camp managers of the eight IDP camps in the Montserrado area on improving services to assure that reception facilities are in place when the IDPs return. We've also worked very closely with ECOMIL to improve the security in and around the Montserrado camps. The ECOMIL security cordon has now been extended as far north of the city as the Ricks IDP camp. Patrols are taking place three times a day between the different camps and checkpoints are set up several locations.

Those being moved are registered at the point of departure and by the camp managers on arrival in UNHCR and ECOMIL trucks. UNHCR and OCHA yesterday took part in a one-hour "talk back" live radio show to inform people about the relocation exercise, clarifying the reasons for it and giving them the opportunity to call in and ask questions. Several people (displaced and non displaced) called and asked for more details about the security and living conditions in the camps.

The transfer will continue over the coming weeks. In addition, more than 60,000 displaced have already returned spontaneously. It is hoped that the security in the camps followed by the return of so many people will encourage others to return spontaneously as well.

Meanwhile, an inter-agency humanitarian team (WFP, OCHA, WHO, UNICEF, UNHCR, DRC, MERCY and ITC) was scheduled to depart for the southern town of Harper today aboard a WFP boat. They are expected to arrive in Harper tomorrow (Saturday) afternoon. Following an initial reconnaissance mission by UNHCR's security people, the team will spend a day assessing the situation in the Harper area, where we are concerned about the fate of thousands of Ivorian refugees and Liberian returnees who had been in camps in the region. We're also very much interested in assessing the state of our Harper office and the condition of three camps in Harper, Fish Town and Pleebo. UNHCR had offices in Zwedru, Saclepea and Harper and was taking care of 38,000 Ivorian refugees, 45,000 returnees and 15,000 Third Country nationals who had been trapped inside Liberia, before fighting forced us to pull out. Across the border in Côte d'Ivoire, UNHCR Tabou has received credible reports that Harper itself has been severely looted and there has been much violence, including sexual and gender-based assaults.