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Liberia: UNHCR welcomes UNMIL deployment

Briefing notes

Liberia: UNHCR welcomes UNMIL deployment

6 January 2004

UNHCR welcomes the deployment of UNMIL [United Nations Mission in Liberia] battalions in rebel-held areas of Liberia as a positive step toward reaching people in distress and eventually allowing hundreds of thousands of internally displaced persons (IDPs) to return home.

Following the deployment of UNMIL, a UNHCR security team went to Buchanan yesterday, to observe the situation there and prepare for a resumption of operations in the area, once security constraints are lifted. The team is travelling today to Gbarnga, in Bong County, and tomorrow will travel to Tubmanburg, in Bomi County, both counties where UNMIL has also deployed. UNHCR plans to open transit centres and offices in these counties to facilitate the transfer and return of IDPs to their areas of origin as well as the return of Liberian refugees from neighbouring countries.

In Monrovia, UNHCR and other UN agencies and NGOs are undertaking another major relocation of IDPs this week. Some 2,600 persons are being relocated out of the Ministry of Interior building in the centre of Monrovia as well as from another public building in Mamba Point. The IDP relocation exercise, which started in September, aims to decongest public buildings in and around Monrovia. Empty shelters are being identified in existing IDP camps and, where necessary, additional shelters are being built. At the E.J. Yancy IDP camp in Totota, Bong County, for instance, UNHCR's partner, Concern Christian Community, recently turned over 200 huts which will house 800 persons.

We are also taking the opportunity while visiting the IDP camps to inform the IDPs about UNMIL deployment in their areas of origin and about future plans to assist them to return home. UNHCR plans to help returns through activities such as school and clinic rehabilitation, road reconstruction and provision of water and sanitation facilities. UNHCR has also urged agencies working in IDP camps to start compiling statistics and detailed information on returnees and IDPs. This information will help coordinate and plan the IDP reintegration programme overall, which is due to commence shortly.

Following reports this week, we have also confirmed the presence in Perry Town IDP camp, near Monrovia, of 202 Liberian returnees from Sierra Leone. The returnees, who arrived in late December, mentioned security problems at the Gerihun refugee camp in Sierra Leone as well as news of peace in Liberia as reasons for their spontaneous return. They have already received a package of domestic items to help them settle in the camp. UNHCR believes that the number of spontaneous returnees may increase in the future.