Liberia

Inter-Agency Internal Displacement Division, OCHA Follow-Up Mission to Liberia, 8-22 May 2005

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The follow-up mission was led by Laketch Dirasse, accompanied by Marc Vincent, Simon Bagshaw and Kulmiye Mohamed. The purpose of the mission was to:

- review the implementation of the November 2004 Action Plan for the Return and Reintegration of IDPs and propose measures for further follow-up;

- assist the HC/DSRSG and the IDP Consultative Forum (ICF) to establish a comprehensive protection monitoring mechanism; and

- assess the capacity of the UNMIL Humanitarian Coordination Section (HCS) and prepare for deployment of additional staff resources if necessary.

The mission met with the HC/DSRSG, the Executive Director of the Liberian Refugee Repatriation and Resettlement Commission (LRRRC), the ICF, the inter-agency Protection Core Group, the UN Country Team, senior UNMIL staff, the Chair of the National Election Commission, and representatives of national and international NGOs, the ICRC, and the donor community.

OVERALL SITUATION

In November 2004, UNMIL, UN agencies and governmental and non-governmental partners began the process of IDP return and had at the time of the mission distributed return assistance (consisting of food, non-food items (NFIs) and transport assistance provided by WFP, UNHCR and IOM) to over 145,000 IDPs from an anticipated return caseload of 314,000 (the total number of IDPs on the WFP feeding logs). Many have subsequently returned to their areas of origin. This has been achieved under often very difficult circumstances, including the limited capacity of the main government counterpart in the return process (the LRRRC), as well as the lack of adequate human resources and logistical capacity within the IDP Unit of UNMIL's Humanitarian Coordination Section (HCS). In addition, although UN agencies, ICRC and NGOs are implementing reintegration and recovery activities in areas of return, funding for such activities remains insufficient and serves to dissuade some IDPs from returning at the present time.

OBSERVATIONS

Implementation of the 2004 Action Plan for Return and Reintegration

While a significant proportion of the IDP population has been provided with assistance to return to their areas of origin, the return process and the continuing IDP situation as a whole continues to pose a number of challenges, particularly in terms of planning and implementing the return; the need for continued support to camps and for increased funding and support for reintegration and recovery activities in areas of return.

The Return Process

The current emphasis on the distribution in camps of the return package and the cash transport allowance and the requirement that IDPs leave the camp within 10 days of receiving the complete package makes it difficult to verify the voluntariness of the return process. Moreover, as the rainy season approaches, the policy of providing a transport allowance and expecting IDPs to return with their possessions and the resettlement package will present a significant challenge. The mission recognises the importance of encouraging self-reliance, however, it is concerned at: the lack of available and suitable transport to some parts of Lofa and Gbarpolu Counties; the safety risks confronting IDPs who attempt to return by means of private (and unregulated and often overloaded) transportation; the risk of families becoming stranded on impassable roads without adequate shelter; and the risks of families arriving in areas of return without shelter.

Continuing Support to Camps

It is broadly acknowledged by UN agencies, NGOs and donors that it will not be possible to return all IDPs to their areas of origin before the rainy season. Problems with the NFI pipeline, the lack of private transportation in some areas, as well as increasingly limited access due to deteriorating road conditions are delaying the return process. It will, therefore, be necessary to continue to ensure provision of basic services, camp management, emergency shelter and protection activities (such as support to camp security structures, prevention and response to sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) etc.,) in camps from which IDPs are unable to return at the present time and during the rainy season. IDD approached some donors in Monrovia who responded favourably to the need for continued support to the camps provided it was part of a complete return/resettlement plan for IDPs.

A related issue concerns the possible disenfranchisement of IDPs who remain in the camps and are unable to return to their homes prior to the October elections. The election law provides that IDPs who have registered to vote in a given county must be physically present in that county to actually vote. There is no provision for absentee balloting. Therefore, an as yet unknown number of IDPs may be unable (and not necessarily through any fault of their own) to participate in the October elections. The mission notes that the National Election Commission (NEC) is effectively unable to amend the electoral law at this stage to allow absentee balloting in camps. However, consideration needs to be given to the possible ramifications, both in the camps and at polling stations, of IDPs not being allowed to vote as a result of not having been able to return to their areas of origin.

Recovery and Reintegration

As indicated in the 2004 Action Plan, essential to both the sustainability of the return process and to attracting IDPs back to their home areas is the need for recovery and development activities in areas of return. The RFTF has taken these issues into account but the mission recognises that funding remains a serious constraint for reintegration and recovery activities that needs to be addressed by the donor community.

Protection Monitoring and Response

Protection remains a serious concern in Liberia. In camps, protection issues range from continuing and increasing reports of SGBV, theft of IDP and camp assets, and unaccompanied children, left in the camps to finish schooling while their parents have returned. For those returning, there are reports that some have been unable to find shelter or have found their former homes occupied by ex-combatants and lack shelter pending restitution of the property. Communities of return are also witnessing increasing rates of SGBV, including domestic violence.

Although protection was considered one of the fundamental pillars of the 2004 Action Plan, the mission found a continuing and widely recognised need for a more effective and comprehensive protection monitoring and response. In meetings with the inter-agency Protection Core Group (PCG), the mission agreed to assist with the development of a unified protection framework with a view to meeting this need for a more comprehensive system of monitoring and response. In this connection, UNHCR agreed to assume the principal role in the planning and implementation of the overall protection response for IDPs.

Coordination

Coordination of the humanitarian response remains severely constrained in Liberia, not least due to the lack of experienced staff in the field. The handover from OCHA to HCS in November 2004 was problematic in view of the inability of the latter to take on existing or new staff at that time which also undermined its ability to fulfil the responsibilities previously carried out by OCHA staff. In fact, many interlocutors cited this as a major impediment to the effective planning of the return process. Capacity within HCS and specifically the IDP Unit, has been partially resolved through the secondment of staff by UNHCR, the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) and WFP.

CONCLUSIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS

Revise and Update the Action Plan for Return and Reintegration

The HCS IDP Unit should revise the November 2004 Action Plan for the Return and Reintegration of IDPs. The revised Plan should include inter alia:

- A longer-term schedule, updated regularly, that covers the complete return and resettlement of IDPs and clearly indicates availability, location and distribution dates of the return packages.

- A clear allocation of roles and responsibilities - who is doing what, where and what are their responsibilities vis-à-vis partner agencies involved in the return process.

- Effective monitoring of the return process, including an accurate assessment of numbers of IDPs who have returned to their areas of origin (see protection below).

- An agreed, coherent and consistent approach to, and plan for, camp closure that addresses issues related to disposal of assets such as clinics, water pumps; and other concerns such as the payment of compensation to landowners, etc.

- An agreed, coherent and consistent approach to, and plan for, camp consolidation that addresses the process for relocating IDPs remaining in partially emptied camps into central areas of the camps and away from the periphery; the transfer of IDPs from less populated camps into larger camps to ensure more cost effective maintenance of basic services.

- An agreed policy on resettlement options for those IDPs who choose not to return but prefer to integrate locally following camp closure. This must address the legal status of IDPs remaining in shelters on private land and should include provision for legal advice to IDPs and landowners to ensure security of tenure and fair rents.

- An expanded mass information campaign that clearly relates key messages to the displaced, as well as staff of partner agencies and organizations. It should include clear and accurate information on conditions in return areas, including road conditions and the likelihood of access during the rainy season.

The revised Action Plan should be completed as a matter of urgency and presented to the ICF for endorsement.

Task Force on Camp Closure, Consolidation and Resettlement

To assist the IDP Unit with the revision of the Action Plan, the ICF should establish a task force consisting of UN agencies, NGOs and LRRRC to develop an overarching approach to camp consolidation, closure and resettlement options. WFP had already indicated that it would make a staff member available to act as a resource person, subject to staff availability. IDD will support the work of the task force from Geneva through the provision of examples of best practice, guidelines, etc.

A Differentiated Approach to Return

Under most circumstances, the rainy season would allow for a slow down and/or pause of the return process which would negate many of these concerns. However, given the political imperative to continue the return process and the expectations of IDPs regarding their entitlement to return assistance, including the transport allowance, the mission recommends a differentiated approach to return based on:

- A more location-specific approach that takes into account the transport requirements and conditions on route and in areas of return for which the option of using UNMIL trucks should be reconsidered .

- ICF should consider prioritizing the "second" of its return options, i.e., a reorientation from the distribution of resettlement packages and transport allowances in camps to distribution of resettlement packages near areas of return.

Such a change in approach would require:

- As agreed with the mission, the HC/DSRSG to secure the logistical support of UNMIL for transporting IDPs.

- Consideration of additional points for distribution of the return package closer to areas of return including, for example, mobile distribution methods.

- Provision for temporary overnight shelter, where necessary.

- Urgent confidence building measures with IDP communities to restore their trust in the international community, in particular "look and see" visits by IDP leaders to distribution centres to verify the availability of resettlement packages.

- Assured pre-positioning of the full resettlement package in distribution centres.

Non-Food Items

To facilitate more effective planning for return, UNHCR should provide the ICF and partner agencies with weekly updates on NFI stocks in general and those available for immediate distribution in different counties.

Donors are urged to respond positively and expeditiously to requests from the HC/DSRSG for funds to procure the outstanding 64,000 NFI kits.

Resource Mobilisation for Camp-Based Interventions

The HC/DSRSG, ICF, individual agencies and NGOs, as well as the ERC and IDD at the level of headquarters, should advocate with donors for continued funding to support the provision of basic services etc. in the camps, at a minimum for the duration of the rainy season.

Agencies should provide HCS with a clear estimate of needs to support basic services etc. in the camps for the duration of the rainy season.

The HC/DSRSG should approach donors and OCHA-CRD to reactivate the Emergency Response Fund (ERF) to ensure that a pool of funding is readily available to meet emergency needs in the camps during the rainy season. It might also be used to support the re-establishment of basic services in areas of return.

Coordination and Emergency Interventions in Camps

To improve coordination of service provision to camps, HCS should reconstitute the camp funding matrix, listing existing service providers in the camps, the sectors they cover and the extent of current and required funding.

HCS should identify a mobile emergency health/WATSAN service provider to respond to immediate and urgent needs in camps without service providers.

Elections

Consideration needs to be given by the NEC, the HC/DSRSG and UNMIL to the possible ramifications, both in the camps and at polling stations, of IDPs not being allowed to vote as a result of not having been able to return to their areas of origin.

Sustainable Livelihoods and Income Generation Projects

The current planting season is about to end and while a significant number of returning IDPs have benefited from seeds and tools distributions, many have not and have been unable to plant crops this season. FAO and NGO partners should prepare funding proposals for seeds and tools procurement to ensure rapid and comprehensive distribution for the next planting season.

Donors are encouraged to support proposals for seeds and tools procurement as well as for alternative livelihood support projects and income generating initiatives in areas of return, particularly those targeting women and vulnerable households.

Food Security

Given that not all returning IDPs have been provided with seeds and tools and the food ration component of the resettlement package covers only four months, WFP should ensure continued vulnerability assessments in areas of return.

IDPs and Area-Based Recovery

UNDP and the World Bank should intensify the incorporation of returning IDPs, as well as those who choose resettlement and local integration, into their respective area-based community recovery plans and Community Driven Development programmes.

Protection

The Protection Core Group (PCG), with the assistance of the IDD, to develop a unified protection framework to respond to the need for:

- Comprehensive and strengthened monitoring and reporting in the camps, along routes of and in areas of return to determine where IDPs are returning, in what numbers and what specific needs they face.

- Increased child protection activities, particularly in the camps and especially during the process of closure and consolidation of camps.

- Increased protection against SGBV and provision of medical and psycho-social support for survivors.

Enhanced Protection Role for UNHCR

UNHCR has agreed to assume the principal role in the planning and implementation of the overall protection response for IDPs that will include the deployment of six additional protection officers and national staff (in addition to existing protection staff seconded from NRC). UNHCR will contribute to the unified protection framework document, including providing an outline of resource requirements.

Sexual and Gender-Based Violence

Its current support for protection activities in camps and communities of return notwithstanding, UNICEF should consider additional support to child protection and SGBV projects included in the unified protection framework.

The SGBV Task Force should establish a consolidated database on SGBV and regularly make available information on incident rates (not specific cases), trends and patterns.

Ministry of Gender and UNIFEM should lead a nationwide inter-agency awareness campaign on SGBV.

Donors are requested to make funds available to UNFPA and its implementing partner, the Association of Female Lawyers of Liberia, to support the implementation of the proposed project on awareness raising on SGBV in returning and host communities in the north and south-eastern Liberia.

Protection and the ICF

To ensure systematic consideration of protection issues by the ICF, protection should become a standing item on the agenda of the ICF and the PCG be requested to report to the ICF under this agenda item.

HCS Staffing

The ERC and OCHA-CRD should continue to advocate with DPKO for an accelerated recruitment and deployment to HCS of Humanitarian Affairs Officers (HAOs) that have been already selected jointly by HCS and OCHA-CRD.

The HC/DSRSG to intervene with UNMIL administration to ensure prioritisation and support for the provision of logistical, communications and office support to staff of HCS.

A lessons learned study should be conducted into the timing of the departure of OCHA and the speed of deployment of HCS staff by UNMIL.

Sectoral Coordination

The HC/DSRSG and HCS should re-establish sectoral coordination bodies at the Monrovia level to ensure proper coordination of basic services in camps.

Clarification of Roles

The HC/DSRSG should ensure clarification of the respective roles in the areas of return of the staff of the HCS and the RRR Section of UNMIL.

NEXT STEPS FOR OCHA/IDD

Return Process

IDD has deployed a member of the Field Response Section to the HCS IDP Unit for up to two months to assist with return process.

Camp Closure, Consolidation and Resettlement Options

IDD will support the work of the task force on camp closure, consolidation and resettlement through the provision of examples of best practice, guidelines, etc.

IDD to consider a mission by its Senior Advisor on Shelter and Human Settlements to assist the task force.

Unified Protection Framework

IDD to support the PCG in finalising the unified protection framework and seeking donor support.

UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
To learn more about OCHA's activities, please visit https://www.unocha.org/.