Refugee arrivals in Monrovia report violence, intimidation
MONROVIA, Liberia, June 13 (UNHCR) - Groups of refugees recently displaced from camps around Monrovia have begun arriving in the Liberian capital with reports of widespread human rights violations.
In recent days, Sierra Leonean refugees from VOA refugee camp on the outskirts of Monrovia have reached the capital after travelling through bush roads to escape the conflict between government and rebel troops. They reported widespread incidents of violence, intimidation and extortion by various armed groups during and after last weekend's upsurge in fighting. They also told the UN refugee agency that three refugees had been killed while others had been arrested.
At UNHCR's request, the Liberian police visited VOA camp on Thursday and confirmed cases of violence and harassment. However, they found no evidence of the alleged killings. UNHCR has not been able to visit VOA, Banjor or Zuannah camps in recent days, as they are all located in rebel-held territory.
On Friday, the refugee agency appealed once again to all parties concerned to stop such grave violations.
"Unhindered access should be given immediately to all populations in need of assistance," said David Lambo, UNHCR's Africa Bureau Director. "There has been enough suffering due to the violence perpetrated on innocent civilians - local population and refugees alike."
The refugees' accounts follow earlier reports that a number of Sierra Leonean and Ivorian refugees had been arrested in and around the camps. Some of them have since been released with the intervention of the Liberia Refugee, Repatriation, Resettlement Commission. UNHCR has referred other cases to the government in a bid to secure their release.
The refugee agency has maintained minimal radio contact with a fourth camp, Samukai, where shops and a clinic have been looted, and food is running out for some Sierra Leonean refugees who stayed behind, along with hundreds of displaced Liberians who had sought shelter there.
Meanwhile, UNHCR has been exploring ways to help some 300 to 400 Sierra Leonean refugees encamped around its Monrovia compound, providing them with water with the help of non-governmental organisation MERLIN, and registering them for food distribution by the UN World Food Programme.
The refugee agency is also examining options to resume the repatriation of Sierra Leonean refugees by boat as soon as possible. The last ship left Monrovia for Freetown on Sunday.
However, UNHCR's assistance efforts have been hampered by a lack of manpower in Liberia. The agency's Monrovia office is now run by some 15 local staff who cannot carry out their normal duties due to the prevailing insecurity. Ten other local staff have left the country out of fear, while the three remaining international staff were evacuated to Abidjan on Monday, along with 500 people from the UN Liberia Country Team, non-governmental organisations and embassies.
In a statement issued on Thursday, the UN Liberia Country Team expressed solidarity with its humanitarian partners and the Liberian people. It appealed to the combatants "to spare the lives and property of innocent civilians, and to refrain from committing further violations of human rights and humanitarian law."
Pledging to re-deploy personnel as soon as security returns to Monrovia, the UN team also urged "all parties at the Liberian peace talks in Akosombo, Ghana, to work to ensure the security of humanitarian workers and unrestricted access so that assistance can be provided to the vulnerable and war-affected in all areas of Liberia."