UNHCR joins efforts to rehabilitate Liberia's ex-fighters
MONROVIA, Liberia, Dec 4 (UNHCR) - The UN refugee agency has joined an inter-agency campaign to demobilise and rehabilitate an estimated 40,000 former combatants in Liberia, focusing on their return and reintegration into civilian life.
The nine-month programme of Disarmament, Demobilisation, Rehabilitation and Reintegration (DDRR) was launched by the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) in a symbolic ceremony on Monday in the capital, Monrovia. It is expected to effectively start on Sunday, December 7.
Under the programme, former fighters are encouraged to voluntarily bring their weapons to three camp sites in Monrovia, Buchanan and Tubmanburg, where they will undergo three weeks of demobilisation training conducted by UN peacekeepers. They will then be transported to their areas of origin, receiving a $150 allowance at first, followed by another $150 three months later.
UNHCR's role in the programme is three-pronged - assisting demobilised Liberian fighters in Liberia, Liberian ex-combatants in neighbouring countries, and foreign ex-combatants in Liberia.
Moses Okello, UNHCR Representative in Liberia, welcomed the start of the disarmament and demobilisation process: "As a result of this exercise, it will soon be possible for Liberian civilians who are in exile and in IDP centres to go home."
He added, "A great task lies ahead for UNHCR and the humanitarian community as well as for the people of Liberia. This symbolic first step hopefully signals a turning point in the history of Liberia, which will be irreversibly engaged on the road to peace as more ex-combatants come forward to surrender their arms."
During the demobilisation phase, UNHCR will provide - if needed - limited material support in the form of plastic sheeting and kitchen sets in demobilisation centres. If requested, it can also offer advice on camp management.
Further afield, UNHCR will work with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and regional governments to repatriate Liberian ex-combatants and their families now living in camps in neighbouring countries.
Those who don't want to return to Liberia and who qualify for refugee status elsewhere will receive protection and assistance from UNHCR. The agency will also help process foreign demobilised fighters in Liberia who want to seek asylum here.
To help returnees reintegrate in Liberia, UNHCR will work with other agencies to support community programmes like workshops in skills training and farm tool usage, and the building of feeder roads in potential areas of return.
In the longer term, the refugee agency will support community empowerment and quick impact projects in line with its 4Rs approach of Repatriation, Reintegration, Rehabilitation and Reconstruction, with a special focus on helping former child soldiers and other vulnerable groups.
More than 200,000 people have been killed in Liberia in successive civil wars since 1989. There are still some 315,000 Liberian refugees scattered across West Africa today.