UNHCR relocates IDPs in another Liberian county; trains community patrols
MONROVIA, Liberia, Dec 5 (UNHCR) - Thousands of internally displaced Liberians living in irregular shelters outside the capital, Monrovia, can soon enjoy better assistance and security as the UN refugee agency today started moving them to proper accommodation centres.
On Friday, UNHCR, together with the Liberian government and UN partners, started relocating more than 2,500 internally displaced persons (IDPs) from schools and irregular shelters in Margibi county, 35 km from Monrovia. They were moved to three IDP camps around the capital, close to their areas of origin.
UNHCR provided transport for the operation, and its staff helped to receive, register and distribute relief items to the new arrivals at the IDP camps. They are also standing by to follow up with protection and assistance where needed.
The refugee agency has been working with the camp managers to ensure that assistance and facilities at the IDP camps are better than those in the irregular shelters. UNHCR has also persuaded the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) to extend its patrols to the camps so that IDPs and their host communities can feel confident about rebuilding their lives.
The move from Margibi county is an extension of the inter-agency initiative that started in September to decongest Monrovia, which hosted some 30,000 displaced people in 56 schools and a clinic. As a result of that relocation, schools in the capital were able to resume classes in November, while thousands of displaced Liberians went home spontaneously or moved to established IDP camps.
To empower the displaced people and improve security in the camps, UNHCR has started a training series for Community Watch Teams (CWT) in eight IDP camps in the Montserrado area, which encompasses Monrovia. These teams are made up of IDP volunteers who patrol the camps regularly throughout the day and night, intervening and mediating when there are tensions and conflicts. They had existed in the camps before fighting erupted earlier this year, resuming operations after the conflict.
Through a series of one-day workshops, UNHCR staff will teach the CWTs how to conduct neighbourhood watch and how to deal with former child combatants. UNMIL and civil police officers will brief them on their role in Liberia, while the Women in Peace Building Network (WIPNET) will impart skills on negotiation and conflict resolution.
There is also a special emphasis on cases of sexual and gender-based violence in the camps.
"The gender component in this workshop is just the first step to talk about violence in the camp, rape of women, child abuse and prostitution, domestic violence and early marriage of girls. It is the first step to try and prevent these crimes," said Alexina Rusere, UNHCR's community services officer in Monrovia and one of the recipients of the UNHCR 2003 Award for the Promotion of Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Refugee Women.
The training aims to increase female participation in the CWTs so that domestic violence and other abuses are not just considered private matters. The presence of women in the teams is also crucial in preventing and stabilising potentially violent situations.
The CWTs will work within a mechanism where they can report crimes, robberies and other abuses to aid agencies working in the camps, or directly to UNMIL or the civil police.