Lubbers lauds efforts to make Liberia safe for refugee returns
MONROVIA, Liberia, May 4 (UNHCR) - UN refugee agency chief Ruud Lubbers has said that the rapid deployment of UN troops and disarmament efforts in Liberia will help ensure enough security for UNHCR to start facilitating refugee returns in October.
The High Commissioner made these comments while in Liberia, the last leg of a West Africa tour that has taken him to Guinea and Sierra Leone.
Arriving in the Liberian capital, Monrovia, on Monday, he met with Jacques Klein, the UN Secretary-General's Special Representative for Liberia. Lubbers welcomed peace efforts in a country wracked by 14 years of civil war, and pledged UNHCR's support for the work of the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL).
"The timely deployment of UNMIL troops will enable access to humanitarian workers in the country," said Lubbers, lauding the cooperation between UNHCR, UNMIL and the UN Department of Peace-Keeping Operations on common goals like the security of refugees, internally displaced persons (IDPs) and returnees, as well as disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration.
"The country will then be sufficiently securitised to start bringing people back home," he said in separate meetings with the Liberian Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Minister of Rural Development, and the Executive Director of the Liberia Refugee Repatriation Resettlement Commission (LRRRC).
They agreed that reintegration and rehabilitation activities were crucial to create conducive conditions for the return of Liberian refugees and IDPs, which UNHCR will start facilitating in October. The refugee agency recently resumed operations in six counties in Liberia to collect information; re-establish a network with local authorities, non-governmental organisations and the local community; and to prepare the ground for the reintegration and rehabilitation of returnees.
"The need exists to bridge the gap between the relief phase and recovery and development," said UNHCR Representative in Liberia Moses Okello at a mid-April workshop on repatriation, reintegration, rehabilitation and reconstruction, better known as the 4Rs approach.
This year, UNHCR expects that up to 100,000 Liberian refugees (out of a total of 320,000 in West African countries) will return from Guinea, Sierra Leone, Ghana and Côte d'Ivoire. Out of this number, many are expected to spontaneously repatriate. UNHCR will organise transport, provide reintegration packages and community-based assistance for the rehabilitation of essential services in water, health and education, to name a few.
In addition, the refugee agency also plans to assist some 300,000 IDPs to return to their counties devastated by the war. Already, more than 6,000 Liberian refugees have crossed into Liberia this year and are staying in camps near Monrovia. The total figure of spontaneous returnees across the country is probably much higher.
On Tuesday, the High Commissioner travelled to the Perry Town way station near Monrovia, where UNHCR is hosting and assisting 4,300 recent returnees from Sierra Leone who have not been able to return to their home areas. "I am happy to be here in a peaceful Liberia," he said, recalling his visit last year, at the height of the conflict. Addressing the returnees, he said, "You have to start to rebuild your nation."
He also visited Mount Barclay IDP camp and the VOA disarmament and demobilisation centre and cantonment site, both in the Monrovia area, before heading for meetings with the US Ambassador and Liberia's National Transitional Government Chairman, Gyude Bryant.
UNHCR needs $39.2 million for the return and reintegration programme for Liberian refugees this year. It is still some $25 million short.