UNHCR to spend $14 million on IDP return in Liberia; more counties cleared for return
MONROVIA, Feb 1 (UNHCR) - The UN refugee agency has committed $14 million to help the return and reintegration of internally displaced people (IDPs) in Liberia this year, just days after the Liberian government declared seven more counties safe for return.
On Tuesday, UNHCR Representative in Liberia Moses Okello announced that the agency would spend $14 million to facilitate the return of IDPs from camps in and around Monrovia over the course of this year. Of this amount, more than $5.5 million will be spent on non-food items and extra distribution outlets for returning IDPs, and $3.5 million will go towards providing transportation allowance to get them home. The remaining $5 million will fund reintegration projects in areas of return.
The announcement comes in the wake of the Liberian National Security Assessment Committee for Resettlement (SACR)'s declaration last Thursday that 13 out of the 15 Liberian counties are ready for return. The seven newly-cleared counties - Lofa, Grand Gedeh, Nimba, Montserrado, Grand Bassa, River Gee and Maryland - joined six others that were cleared last year - Bong, River Cess, Bomi, Gbarpolu, Grand Cape Mount and Margibi.
SACR stated that the counties have met the minimal benchmarks to be declared ready to receive their citizens back. These benchmarks include the completion of disarmament, the presence of civil authorities, reasonable spontaneous returns by refugees and IDPs, the rehabilitation of basic services and the unhindered presence of humanitarian workers. The assessment team noted, however, that conditions are not 100 percent perfect after 15 years of instability.
"The latest announcement will enable UNHCR to extend its voluntary repatriation exercise to refugees hailing from these areas and who were not prioritised during the repatriation exercise launched on 1 October 2004," said UNHCR Senior Reintegration/Repatriation Officer Andrew Mbogori.
The 13 counties declared ready for return pave the way home for 98 percent of the Liberian refugees settled in West Africa. But UNHCR will hold off return movements to Maryland county until the Liberia National Transitional Government of Liberia lifts a curfew imposed in the area on January 22 to stop riots linked to alleged ritual killings.
Grand Kru and Sinoe in the south of the country are the remaining two counties that have yet to be cleared for return.
More than 6,500 Liberian refugees and 30,000 IDPs have returned to their towns and villages since UNHCR began its region-wide Liberian repatriation programme in October last year. Another 100,000 more are believed to have gone back on their own since hostilities ceased in late 2003.
Last week's SACR announcement has been received with much enthusiasm among those hailing from Lofa county, home to more than 200,000 refugees and IDPs. Kuluboh Kollie, a mother of eight who lost her husband recently, is one of them. Currently living at the Perry Town IDP camp in Monrovia, she is relieved that she is finally able to return home and start farming.
"The help I am getting in the camp is not enough for me to take care of my children," she explained. "Since my husband died, I have been left alone to feed them but the only way I know how is from the soil. At home we have land, so I will be able to really take care of my children."
According to Kollie, her fellow IDPs are well aware that all the basic services are not yet available but they are satisfied enough to know that efforts are being made to restore them.
UNHCR and several aid agencies throughout Liberia have been implementing reintegration projects aimed at helping returnees settle back in their home communities.
In the counties declared ready to receive returnees, the refugee agency is funding the repair of shelters, roads, schools, water points and clinics, in the process providing much-needed employment in these communities.
In 2005, UNHCR will initiate more than 1,000 community empowerment projects in collaboration with local partners and the communities. The community empowerment programme is part of the 4Rs initiatives - Repatriation, Reintegration, Rehabilitation and Reconstruction - designed to contribute to the recovery process in Liberia.
UNHCR has set up 13 transit facilities countrywide in anticipation of a large number of refugees and IDPs who are expected to return before the rainy season.
This year, an estimated 150,000 Liberian refugees are likely to head back home, mainly from neighbouring Côte d'Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea and Sierra Leone. On Wednesday, UN High Commissioner for Refugees Ruud Lubbers will join a return convoy from Sierra Leone to Liberia, where he will spend two days reviewing the repatriation movement.
By Sarah Brownell