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UNHCR steps up work around Monrovia before expanding inland

UNHCR steps up work around Monrovia before expanding inland

Three weeks after returning to the Liberian capital, the UN refugee agency has started distributing relief items to refugees and displaced Liberians, improved security around Monrovia's camps and negotiated with government and rebel groups to ensure optimal assistance to displaced populations.
1 September 2003
Displaced Liberians living under desperate conditions at a school in Harbel, south-east of Monrovia.

MONROVIA, Liberia, Sept 1 (UNHCR) - As an uneasy calm settles over Monrovia, the UN refugee agency has been continuing its efforts to assist people in and around the Liberian capital while gradually also trying to reach deeper into the country's interior.

Over the weekend, two planeloads of relief supplies arrived in Monrovia from Copenhagen, with blankets and jerry cans for 10,000 persons, kitchen sets and plastic sheeting for 20,000, water bladders, Rubbhalls for warehousing and four light vehicles. Together with two recent sealifts from Freetown and an airlift of UNHCR's regional stocks from Accra, the agency now has sufficient stocks in Monrovia for 40,000 persons.

Distribution of essential domestic items is continuing in three refugee camps around the capital. Starting Tuesday, the distribution should also take place in the camps for internally displaced people (IDPs) situated nearby.

Security has improved for refugees and displaced people around Monrovia. The West African ECOMIL forces have agreed to patrol Samukai, VOA and Banjor refugee camps - where thousands of Sierra Leonean refugees have returned - night and day in order to increase the sense of security for refugees and locals alike. Patrols should also be extended to the eight IDP camps around Monrovia in the coming days.

UNHCR continues to provide logistical support to ECOMIL troops - which have now reached 1,600 men on the ground - in the form of vehicles and communication equipment.

Since the UNHCR-chartered MV Overbeck ship ran into technical problems on the high seas last week, the refugee agency has been looking at an additional route to Sierra Leone for refugee repatriation and the delivery of relief items.

Last Thursday, UNHCR led a mission to Bo Waterside, on the border with Sierra Leone, to assess once again the security of using the land route for convoys to and from Sierra Leone. The agency also tried to reinforce its dialogue with LURD (Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy) rebels controlling the area, and met staff from UNHCR in Zimmi to discuss the condition of roads on the Sierra Leonean side of the border.

Further inland, UNHCR travelled to Buchanan, south-east of Monrovia, last Friday as part of an inter-agency field mission to assess health and protection needs. The city is controlled by rebels of the MODEL (Movement for Democracy in Liberia) and the situation there remains very tense despite the peace agreement and cease-fire of August 18 that paved the way for an interim government to take effect in October, and for elections to be held in 2005.

Cases of extortion, harassment and abductions are reportedly rife in Buchanan. Some 30,000 people are believed to be displaced there, many with immense needs, especially for food. Armed groups are reportedly preventing civilians from moving around freely, demanding heavy tolls to pass the checkpoints, even when they are simply in search of food. Looting of possessions and occupation of private properties are also frequent.

UNHCR staff, together with personnel from other humanitarian agencies, visited three IDP centres and a clinic in Buchanan. There, they met civilian and church leaders working with refugees, local non-governmental agencies, as well as communities of refugees and displaced people in dire need of assistance. The outcome of the mission will help the agencies to evaluate how best to reach these desperate people and respond to their most immediate needs.

In a meeting with the local MODEL commander, the agencies raised issues such as unlimited access and secure distribution of food and aid, as well as the recruitment of children and the possibility of accessing the remaining Ivorian refugees in eastern Liberia.

Apart from Buchanan, similar assessment missions have been fielded to Totota and Salala, north-east of Monrovia, where groups of up to 40,000 displaced people have been found, as well as to Tubmanburg in the LURD-controlled area north of the capital.

UNHCR has been keeping in contact with the Liberian government and various rebel groups - LURD and MODEL - to sensitise them on protection issues for refugees and displaced persons, the need for safety and for humanitarian agencies to access the populations in distress.

The refugee agency remains very concerned about the fate of some 38,000 Ivorian refugees and 42,000 Liberian returnees in the east of Liberia who have been cut off from UNHCR access and aid since March.