UNHCR distributes aid to Liberians fleeing renewed fighting
MONROVIA, Liberia, Feb. 6 (UNHCR) - The U.N. refugee agency has distributed aid packages to thousands of internally displaced Liberians who sought shelter in camps for Sierra Leoneans, but cautioned that their continued presence could undermine existing refugee programmes in the country.
Some of the displaced Liberians were living with Sierra Leonean relatives or friends, while others occupied schools and other community centres. Their presence over a lengthy period of time could undermine refugee programmes in the camps, which were established for the Sierra Leoneans fleeing a vicious ten-year civil war in their country.
An estimated 20,000 people sought shelter in Klay Junction, an important crossing some 30 kilometres north of the capital of Monrovia on the road to Sierra Leone, during the past week as they sought to flee reported fighting between forces loyal to President Charles Taylor and rebels belonging to Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy.
But reports Wednesday indicated that thousands of the displaced had begun returning to their homes in Tubmanburg on trucks provided by the government.
The fighting last week flared around Tubmanburg and Sawmill, respectively west and north of the capital. But the security situation appears to have improved in the area as the fighting moved back further north into Gbarpolu County.
UNHCR officials estimated that as many as 5,000 people sought safety in six camps, but their numbers were reported to be decreasing. The aid materials were distributed through the government agency for refugees and through non-governmental organisations, and form part of regular ad hoc contributions for displaced persons made by the refugee agency. Since last year, several consignments of materials, including 3,000 jerry cans, 2,500 plastic mats, blankets and tents have been distributed.
UNHCR staff last week noticed a growing number of displaced Liberians who had settled among the refugee population in camps around Monrovia. These include civilians from areas such as the Lofa and Gbarpolu Counties - which are still not pacified - who have been displaced several times.
The sudden flight of displaced Liberians has again raised the issue of providing them with proper assistance in a fixed and secure location. UNHCR has called on the Liberian government to rapidly identify an appropriate location for the relief community to assist the displaced persons.
Many of those receiving the materials are former refugees whom UNHCR assisted in returning to Liberia before the conflict between government troops and the insurgents flared up again in 2000.