UNHCR set to reintegrate Liberian returnees with UNMIL expansion
MONROVIA, Liberia, Jan 6 (UNHCR) - The UN refugee agency has intensified plans for the reintegration of Liberian returnees as the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) deploys troops to safeguard the country's rebel-held areas.
On Tuesday, UNHCR welcomed UNMIL's recent expansion from the Monrovia area to Buchanan (Grand Bassa county), Gbarnga (Bong county), Kle and Tubmanburg (Bomi county), Tappita (Nimba county) and Zwedru (Grand Gedeh county).
"UNMIL deployment is very crucial as UNHCR intends to resume its border operations that were suspended in March last year due to insecurity, as well as to start the reintegration programme for displaced and returning Liberians in their communities of origin," said Theophilus Vodounou, UNHCR's Senior Operations Coordinator and Officer-in-Charge in Liberia.
On the heels of the UNMIL deployment, the refugee agency sent a security team to Buchanan on Monday, with other missions to Gbarnga and Tubmanburg on Tuesday and Wednesday to assess the situation and prepare to resume operations in these areas.
Vodounou added, "Our teams are basically following closely behind UNMIL deployments to various areas. We are ready to intervene very quickly now, with a view to reopening offices in areas of return and looking to the reintegration of all displaced and returnees as soon as possible."
UNHCR plans to start its reintegration programme in the coming weeks for IDPs and Liberian refugees who may want to return as peace resumes in their home areas. Under the programme, UNHCR and its partner agencies will rehabilitate schools and clinics, rebuild roads, and provide water and sanitary facilities in areas of return. Returnees will receive food aid, farming tools, blankets, mats, corrugated iron for roofs and brick-making machines to rebuild permanent homes.
Meanwhile, an inter-agency effort to decongest Monrovia continues this week with the planned transfer of some 2,600 IDPs from two public buildings around the capital to proper IDP camps.
UNHCR is informing Liberians in these camps about UNMIL deployment in their home areas and future plans to assist them home. Eventually, the refugee agency hopes to expand its reintegration programme to Lofa county, where many of Monrovia's IDPs come from.
An estimated 500,000 people have been displaced within Liberia by 14 years of intermittent conflict. Some 300,000 of them live in IDP camps in the country.
Following reports this week, UNHCR has confirmed that 202 Liberian refugees returned spontaneously from neighbouring Sierra Leone and are now living in Perry Town IDP camp. Citing news of peace in Liberia and security problems in Sierra Leone's Gerihun camp as reasons for their return, they arrived in late December and have received a package of domestic items to help them settle in the camp.
UNHCR expects more spontaneous returns among the estimated 330,000 Liberian refugees living in neighbouring countries.