Dalaras ends West Africa trip with pledge to highlight refugees' cause
MONROVIA, Liberia, February 20 (UNHCR) - Greek musician and singer George Dalaras wrapped up his first overseas visit as a UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador at the weekend with a pledge to raise awareness about the work of the refugee agency and the people it helps in Sierra Leone and Liberia.
"Words can't express the pain I feel when I see uprooted people," Dalaras told UNHCR staff and other aid workers last week in Liberia's Lofa county. He said he would continue looking for ways to help refugees and others of concern to UNHCR, including lobbying governments for help and staging benefit concerts.
Dalaras, who was appointed a Goodwill Ambassador last October, kicked off his tour on February 12 in Sierra Leone, where he met with President Ahmad Tejan Kabah and spoke to Liberian refugees during visits to two camps. Sierra Leone hosts an estimated 27,365 refugees, including 21,696 Liberian refugees living in eight camps across the country.
Mid-week, he joined a return convoy of 284 Liberian refugees on an overnight journey from Blama waystation in south-eastern Sierra Leone to Foya district in northern Liberia's Lofa county. He escorted a returnee family to their home community and lauded the returnees' determination to rebuild their lives. Dalaras also praised those who work to help the uprooted.
UNHCR has facilitated the return of nearly 90,000 Liberian refugees from neighbouring countries under a programme launched in 2004 and moved home some 329,000 internally displaced people. An estimated 200,000 spontaneous returnees have been recorded since the civil war ended in 2003. At the end of June, UNHCR plans to end large-scale repatriation of Liberian refugees.
All over the country, UNHCR and its humanitarian partners have helped restore basic services, including clinics, schools, roads, bridges and water and sanitation facilities. Dalaras visited clinics and schools run by volunteer Liberians in Lofa county and said he would highlight their commitment and try to get help for them.
In Monrovia, the Goodwill Ambassador discussed his visit and observations with Justice Minister Francis Johnson Morris. He told the minister that he would solicit funds to help UNHCR's education and health programmes in Liberia.
Dalaras also visited a UNHCR-funded computer training school for urban returnees in the Liberian capital, Monrovia. He was accompanied by his wife Anna, a UNHCR volunteer, as well as staff from the agency's Athens office.
Giorgos Tsarbopoulos, head of the UNHCR office in Greece, said the mission had been very successful in familiarising Dalaras with UNHCR's work out in the field. "The UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador now has a thorough idea of what UNHCR activities are in the field and what UNHCR colleagues' commitment and solidarity means," Tsarbopoulos said.
"He also had the opportunity to meet and speak with refugees in the field. These experiences will be very useful for further raising of awareness and funds for refugees in Africa," he added.
By Sarah Fyneah Brownell in Monrovia, Liberia