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Counting Liberia's "other" refugees

Counting Liberia's "other" refugees

As thousands of Liberian refugees return home after the civil war, refugees in Liberia who hail from West Africa and beyond get ready to stand and be counted in a registration campaign to improve assistance and protection in exile.
4 April 2005
Verifying refugees' biodata in Samukai camp near Monrovia.

MONROVIA, Liberia, April 4 (UNHCR) - They came to Liberia at a time when hundreds of thousands of people were fleeing. Some were here even before the civil war started in 1989, and stayed throughout the 14-year conflict. Today, amid the mass return to Liberia, these refugees are ready to stand and be counted.

The UN refugee agency is currently registering refugees around the Liberian capital, Monrovia. The operation seeks to document them using a new system called ProGres that verifies and compiles extensive biographical data and photographs into a single database. Once registered, the refugees each receive an identity card.

The compiled data makes it easier for UNHCR staff to conduct refugee status determination, provide assistance and protection, process resettlement cases and facilitate local integration.

"The process will benefit the refugees who have remained behind in Liberia," said Bendu L. Massaquoi, a Sierra Leonean refugee who heads a family of five and is currently studying Public Administration and Management on UNHCR scholarship at Monrovia's African Methodist University.

"We are being issued the identity card for our own security," she said. "It will help us in the event of problems, for the law to be on our side. It is also good in case of emergencies, so they can contact our next of kin."

Massaquoi is one of 2,715 Sierra Leonean refugees living in three camps near Monrovia. Many had arrived in Liberia in 1991, fleeing the war back home. While more than 40,000 subsequently repatriated with UNHCR assistance, this group chose not to go back to Sierra Leone for various reasons.

In addition to the Sierra Leoneans, Monrovia also hosts some 90 urban refugees who are a mix of nationalities - Algerians, Congolese, Ghanaians, Ivorians, Nigerians, Rwandans, Somalis, Sudanese, Togolese and Ugandans. The Sudanese refugees are mostly children who were born in Liberia and have lived here for a long time. There are even refugees from beyond the region, from Iraq, Lebanon and Palestine.

A team of 33 people - from UNHCR, the Liberian Refugees Repatriation and Resettlement Commission, implementing partners and former refugee leaders - are currently in Monrovia to register the urban refugees. The team includes registrars, data entry clerks, interpreters and photographers, some of them trained by a Geneva-based team.

Photographs are also entered into the new ProGres registration system.

After Monrovia, the team will move on to eastern and southern Liberia to register an estimated 12,000 Ivorian refugees who fled the 2002 conflict in neighbouring Côte d'Ivoire.

Liberia is the third country in West Africa to implement the new registration system that allows data to be shared among UNHCR offices worldwide. In all, 27 countries have benefited from the system so far.

By Sarah Brownell
UNHCR Liberia