UNHCR to start informing Liberian refugees on election process
MONROVIA, April 20 (UNHCR) - Liberian refugees will now have more time - and information - to vote with their feet, thanks to a UNHCR-negotiated extension of the registration deadline for the October election, and an information campaign set to start this week.
Following months of negotiations with UNHCR, the Liberian government last week agreed to extend the voter registration period for returning refugees by two weeks. Instead of the general registration period of April 25 to May 21, refugees who repatriate with UNHCR after May 21 will have up to June 4 to sign up as voters.
Another concession is that unlike other Liberians who have to vote for the district they register in, returnees and internally displaced people (IDPs) can register anywhere in the country as long as they return to their home area to cast their ballots in October. For example, an IDP who originates from Lofa county but is now living in Monrovia can sign up in the capital, then go back to vote in Lofa on election day.
To ease the registration process, UNHCR has provided Liberia's National Election Committee (NEC) with sample refugee documents to help them easily identify returnees at the 1,511 voter registration centres that will be set up across Liberia. Only returnees who produce a UNHCR voluntary repatriation form stating that they returned after May 21 will be able to register during the extended period. Returnees are also required to register at the Magistrate's Office in the county where they intend to vote.
"The extension is a bit short, we would have preferred a longer period. We will need to move fast to ensure that Liberian refugees across West Africa are fully informed of the electoral process," said Moses Okello, UNHCR's Representative in Liberia.
"We are preparing posters, leaflets and a video illustrating the voting process for the refugees," said Francesca Fontanini, UNHCR's public information officer in Liberia. "We are also thinking of sending a delegation to asylum countries to explain the voting process step by step. We will probably do it in partnership with NEC."
She added that the information campaign would start this week in Liberia's IDP camps, home to 150,000 displaced people. Another 110,000 IDPs have returned to their home areas with UNHCR assistance since last November.
Delegations to asylum countries will start next week in Guinea, followed by Sierra Leone and Ghana, reaching out to some 200,000 Liberian refugees still in exile in the region.
Some 113,000 Liberian refugees have returned home from the region since the 14-year Liberian conflict ended in August 2003. Of this number, over 13,000 have repatriated under UNHCR's return operation that started in October last year. The refugee agency expects thousands more to follow ahead of the elections slated for October 11.