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Lubbers ends West Africa mission; appeals for funds for Liberia

Lubbers ends West Africa mission; appeals for funds for Liberia

UN refugee agency chief Ruud Lubbers has concluded his mission to West Africa by appealing for another $25 million to help repatriate and reintegrate Liberian refugees amid conducive conditions, hopefully in October.
6 May 2004
High Commissioner Ruud Lubbers with displaced Liberians at Mount Barclay IDP camp near Monrovia.

MONROVIA, Liberia, May 6 (UNHCR) - UN High Commissioner for Refugees Ruud Lubbers has concluded his mission to West Africa by appealing for funds to help repatriate and reintegrate Liberian returnees starting in October, in view of the continued deployment of UN peacekeepers and disarmament of former combatants.

Addressing reporters in the Liberian capital of Monrovia on Wednesday, the High Commissioner urged donors to be forthcoming with the $25 million UNHCR still needs to lay the groundwork for the return of some 150,000 Liberian refugees this year. To date, the agency has only received $14 million of the $39.2 million budgeted for its Liberia operations in 2004.

There are an estimated 350,000 Liberian refugees in neighbouring countries, as well as hundreds of thousands of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Liberia.

Liberia marked the last leg of Lubbers' eight-day West Africa tour to review the climate for repatriating Liberian refugees in the region. Throughout, he expressed optimism at the peace process in Liberia after 14 years of civil war, but remained cautious on the timing of returns.

"Today, I meet you as returnees," he told Liberians at Monrovia's Perry Town way station on Tuesday. "Before, I met you as refugees in Sierra Leone and Guinea. I am grateful that today peace has been restored in Liberia. Your nation will soon be rebuilt and you are part of this process."

He added, however, that returnees and IDPs should exercise patience until conditions were created to ensure that they could return to their home areas in safety and dignity.

Since last December, Liberian refugees in the region have been returning on their own, citing encouraging signs in the peace process. However, many of them are ending in IDP camps, unable to return to devastated and insecure areas of origin.

More than 6,000 returnees, mostly from Sierra Leone, are being assisted in camps near Monrovia. UNHCR has built reception and accommodation facilities, including individual structures for vulnerable returnees. Sanitation and health facilities are also provided at the way station. The majority of the returnees hail from Lofa county, with others from Bong, Nimba and Cape Mount counties.

On Tuesday, the High Commissioner also visited the VOA Careysburg Demobilization Cantonment site to see the disarmament process first hand. The UNMIL Force Commander, General Opande, briefed him on the ongoing deployment exercise and disarmament process in the four cantonment sites currently open.

After the field visit, Lubbers met with Gyude Bryant, the Chairman of the National Transitional Government, and expressed UNHCR's readiness to continue working with the government to improve conditions for return. They agreed on the need to speed up rehabilitation and reintegration projects to pave the way for returns when the rainy season ends in October.

As repatriation cannot be dissociated from security, Lubbers called for countries of the Mano River Union - Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea - to include Côte d'Ivoire and other countries in their discussions on regional security issues. This view was shared by members of the National Transitional Government, as well as Ambassadors of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), whom Lubbers met on Wednesday.

The High Commissioner said the Sierra Leone example could be an inspiration for Liberia to follow the path to democratic elections.

Lubbers left Liberia for Geneva on Wednesday evening, ending a three-nation mission that also included Guinea and Sierra Leone.