Liberia: Grave concern over the situation
High Commissioner for Refugees Ruud Lubbers today expressed grave concern over the situation in Liberia, reiterating his call for an immediate end to hostilities and for deployment of an international peacekeeping force to fill the current security vacuum in the war - ravaged nation.
In addition to the suffering of hundreds of thousands of innocent Liberians, the High Commissioner noted that UNHCR has little information on the fate of some 15,000 Sierra Leonean refugees who had been living in camps around Monrovia. Tens of thousands of displaced people have converged on Monrovia, where remaining aid agency staff have struggled to provide assistance amid reports of shelling and gunfire within the city. Mr. Lubbers is also extremely worried about UNHCR's national staff in Monrovia. Sketchy reports from the capital indicate that up to 1,000 refugees and internally displaced people have crowded in and around the UNHCR compound in the city.
During a visit last month to Liberia and four other West African states, the High Commissioner urged the warring parties to cooperate with the International Contact Group's efforts toward a ceasefire and called for the deployment of an international force to keep the peace. He also called on Liberian President Charles Taylor to step down, noting that Liberia had for years been at the epicentre of the region's displacement problems. Every country the High Commissioner visited - Côte d'Ivoire, Ghana, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea - has felt the effects of Liberia's long and dangerous disintegration. Of the more than half a million refugees scattered across the region, some 300,000 are from Liberia. And more are leaving every day in a desperate search for survival and safety.
Fighting has affected at least 11 of Liberia's 15 counties. Awash with weapons, the law of the gun prevails and innocent civilians are the victims. Even before the latest fighting, nearly half of the country's 2.7 million people were displaced or in danger of displacement, threatening stability in neighbouring states such as still - fragile Sierra Leone and Côte d'Ivoire, once a pillar of prosperity in West Africa but now dealing with its own insecurity - particularly in the west along the border with Liberia. Our office in Abidjan has warned that the deteriorating situation in Liberia could again lead to a massive influx of refugees into Côte d'Ivoire, where some 27,000 Liberians have arrived in the past month alone. We are particularly concerned over the continuing animosity toward Liberian refugees among the Ivorian population. UNHCR recently launched an information campaign aimed at trying to reduce the negative public sentiment.
The High Commissioner was stunned when several of Monrovia's remaining humanitarian workers - not the sort of people who normally favour military intervention - told him they favoured deployment of peacekeepers to Liberia. They saw no other way to stop the killing and the misery. A month later - even though there have been increasing calls for such a force - there is still no firm sign of any deployment. The High Commissioner believes that whether the force is in the form of an expanded UNAMSIL mandate from neighbouring Sierra Leone, under the leadership of a UN Security Council member state or through some other arrangement, something needs to be done now to stop the killing and end the suffering of Liberia's people.