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Lubbers urges political solution for Liberia's worsening humanitarian situation

Lubbers urges political solution for Liberia's worsening humanitarian situation

Nearly half of Liberia's population has been displaced or risks displacement in the raging civil war, says UN refugee agency chief Ruud Lubbers, calling for a cease-fire so that desperate victims can receive aid again.
15 May 2003
VOA camp near Monrovia was one of places visited by UN refugee agency chief Ruud Lubbers in Liberia.

MONROVIA/FREETOWN, May 15 (UNHCR) - United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Ruud Lubbers has warned Liberian officials that the humanitarian situation in their country has gone "from bad to worse" and urged them to support an effort to build a new democratic Liberia.

Lubbers, in Monrovia on the third leg of a five-nation West Africa mission, said Liberia needed to make an immediate commitment to work toward a political solution that will enable hundreds of thousands of refugees and displaced people to go home and rebuild their lives.

"The increasingly desperate humanitarian plight inside Liberia, as well as the intense desire of Liberian refugees throughout West Africa to go home, make a political settlement all the more urgent," said Lubbers before leaving the Liberian capital on Wednesday.

"I see the misery, it is simply overwhelming. And I see Liberian refugees outside the country who want to come back. Something must be done now."

The High Commissioner had been expected to meet with Liberian President Charles Taylor on Wednesday but he failed to show for the meeting. After meeting several government officials in Monrovia, Lubbers flew Wednesday afternoon to Freetown, Sierra Leone, for a two-day visit. On Thursday morning, he met with President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah in the eastern town of Kenema. The two men also discussed their mutual concern about the situation in Liberia.

Fighting in 11 of Liberia's 15 counties has already displaced or threatens to displace nearly half of the country's 2.7 million people. The intensification of the conflict in recent months has nearly paralysed humanitarian work and jeopardised the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. Liberia currently has nearly 17,000 Sierra Leone refugees, over 38,000 Ivorian refugees and nearly 44,000 Liberians who returned home following the recent conflict in neighbouring Côte d'Ivoire. In addition, nearly 15,000 third-country nationals have fled to Liberia to escape the fighting in Côte d'Ivoire.

UNHCR and its humanitarian partners are unable to reach many of these groups because of the nearly total lack of security over much of Liberia. Roaming bands of militias, unruly soldiers and ill-disciplined rebel groups have created an extremely dangerous operational environment. In February, three non-governmental organisation workers were murdered in eastern Liberia and aid agencies are now only able to reach a few isolated pockets.

Lubbers welcomed by Liberian refugees at Ghana's Buduburam camp, which he called "little Liberia in peace."

Lubbers said it was urgent that the opposing sides put a cease-fire in place as soon as possible so that aid can begin to flow again. Such a cease-fire is one of the steps supported by the International Contact Group on Liberia that includes the United Nations, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the United States and the European Union. As a result of growing international pressure, the Liberian government has agreed to discuss a truce with rebels on June 2 in Ghana.

In the meantime, Lubbers said, humanitarian agencies would try to help wherever possible. He added, however, that this has become almost impossible. "Until there is a good political solution in Liberia, the humanitarian community will not be able to do its job properly," he said. "Humanitarian access cannot wait - we need to help people now."

The High Commissioner saw a glimmer of hope in the tenacious spirit of Liberian refugees when he visited Buduburam camp in Ghana on Tuesday. The camp hosts some 29,000 refugees, mainly from Liberia, and has become a thriving community that bustles with commercial activity and self-help groups. "Buduburam is like little Liberia in peace," said Lubbers. "I hope the refugees here will soon be able to return to the bigger Liberia in peace."