UNHCR makes gradual return to Liberia this week
MONROVIA, Liberia, August 11 (UNHCR) - The UN refugee agency has gradually returned to Liberia to resume assistance to hundreds of thousands of displaced people who have been cut off from humanitarian aid for weeks.
As early as last week, UNHCR staff had already taken one-day test flights into Monrovia twice - to assess the situation first at the airport and then around the city. A UNHCR security and logistics officers are presently on the ground, together with security staff from other UN agencies, assessing the practicality of sending in more staff and supplies.
On Monday, UNHCR's regular flight into Monrovia, which was suspended in June when fighting flared up in the capital, left with food and some equipment for the agency's office in the Liberian capital.
Tuesday will see 13 high-ranking officials of various UN agencies flying into Monrovia to mark the resumption of humanitarian operations there. Moses Okello, UNHCR Representative in Liberia, will be among them.
"This is the moment we have all been anxiously waiting for, to be able to return to Liberia to provide the much-needed assistance to the suffering people of Liberia - in the case of UNHCR, refugees who have been trapped in a horrid situation, and the displaced people of Liberia who have gone through much suffering," said Okello. "Now is an opportunity to bring some relief to these people. Hopefully it will be the start of a new beginning for Liberia and its people."
On Wednesday, UNHCR will send in an aircraft with two additional international emergency staff as well as urgent supplies such as fuel and other equipment for its office. Fuel shortage has paralysed the daily functioning of the agency's office and its assistance efforts in and around Monrovia, and has to be addressed before relief items can be effectively transported and distributed to the needy people.
A ship has been on standby for a week in Freetown, Sierra Leone, loaded with enough basic supplies - blankets, mats, plastic sheeting and soap - to help some 7,000 people, as well as fuel, food and possibly some generators or trucks. The ship is now scheduled to leave on Wednesday and arrive Friday morning at Monrovia port, where hopefully security conditions will be in place and trucks operational to offload and dispatch the supplies. This will be the first in a series of cargo deliveries into the country.
On return, the ship will be used by UNHCR to repatriate refugees from Sierra Leone, including the hundreds who have been encamped in and around the agency's office at Mamba Point in Monrovia.
Two aircraft from Copenhagen with telecoms equipment, vehicles and domestic items for 10,000 to 15,000 people are expected in West Africa in the coming days. Goods previously prepositioned in the Iraq region are also being redeployed to UNHCR's stocks in Freetown and Accra, Ghana, for the Liberia operation. These include 50,000 blankets, 14,000 jerry cans, kitchen sets and lanterns as well as soap, plastic sheeting and plastic rolls.
Once UNHCR has fully returned to Liberia, the agency plans to assist up to 300,000 needy people in the country, including refugees from Sierra Leone and Côte d'Ivoire, and Liberians who have been displaced or are returning home. To do this, the agency will also deploy a dozen emergency specialists in Liberia and other countries in the region.