Hundreds move out of UNHCR compound in Monrovia
MONROVIA, Liberia, August 25 (UNHCR) - More than 400 refugees have voluntarily moved out of crowded conditions at the UN refugee agency office in Monrovia - opting either for repatriation to Sierra Leone, or for relocation to camps in the Liberian capital.
Over the weekend, 437 Sierra Leonean refugees left the UNHCR compound in Monrovia's Mamba Point area, where they had sought refuge after being displaced by the fighting in recent weeks. Eighty-seven of them sailed towards Freetown on the MV Overbeck. Another 350 agreed to move back to camps on the outskirts on Monrovia after intense discussions with UNHCR staff about security around the camps.
Recalling the desperation that had led her to seek help from the refugee agency, Sierra Leonean refugee Julie said, "I knocked on the doors of UNHCR. We were so many, so desperately in need of a place to hide and find some peace. I was so grateful when they let us inside, away from all the scary things outside."
UNHCR's regional co-ordinator Arnauld Akodjenou explained the need to move these refugees out of the UNHCR compound. "The living conditions for the refugees are very bad in the office compound and there are serious health risks for these people, including UNHCR staff themselves."
He added, "The presence of hundreds of people who can just walk in and out of our compound creates a serious security risk for our organisation. It is better to transfer the refugees to safer, more spacious and healthier places."
To reassure the refugees, UNHCR has been working closely with the West African ECOMIL troops to improve security around the camps.
"ECOMIL has been extremely forthcoming in providing help to us, even though their troops and logistical support are very limited at this stage in time. It is all about security. If people do not feel safe where they come from, they will never ever return," said Iain Hall, UNHCR's senior security officer.
"The presence of the troops and the daily visits of UNHCR staff have made us feel much better," said George, an inhabitant of Samukai camp.
Fellow refugee Julie added, "I want to go back to Sierra Leone now, but only when I find my family. Now I will wait in the camp. I just hope we will be safe there."
In addition to the displaced refugees, UNHCR has been trying to reach out to Liberian returnees and internally displaced people. Last Friday, the agency joined other aid organisations on an assessment mission to rebel-controlled Buchanan, where there are over 40,000 displaced Liberians. There are reports of another few thousand displaced people in Harbel and Cotton Tree between Buchanan and Monrovia.
A separate mission to Totota and Salala, north-east of Monrovia, found more than 30,000 displaced Liberians and some 500 returnees from Côte d'Ivoire in desperate need of food, shelter and sanitation facilities. UNHCR has also visited eight camps for displaced people around Monrovia to assess their immediate needs.