Liberia

Rebuilding lives: Caritas helps Liberian refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs)

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Published
Vatican City, 3 August 2005 - "The world paid attention to Liberia when it was in the news two years ago," said Caritas Internationalis Secretary General Duncan MacLaren. "However, despite the shifting of the media's focus away from the situation, the needs of the country's refugee and displaced populations are still great. We need to keep working to ensure that the advances made do not diminish and that the thousands of people returning home are able to get back on their feet."
Caritas Internationalis (CI) has launched an appeal for nearly one million USD to support the return and resettlement of tens of thousands of Liberians who were internally displaced or had fled the country due to civil war. Fighting peaked in the African nation in July 2003 - following a prolonged period of internal conflict - which resulted in huge loss of life and property and forced hundreds of thousands of people from their homes. Many sought refuge in IDP camps near the country's capital, Monrovia, while others fled to neighbouring Guinea and Côte d'Ivoire, where security was also tenuous.

The signing of a peace agreement in August 2003, the installation of a provisional government two months later, and the presence of UN peacekeeping forces from October 2003 until July 2004 helped to restore some calm. However, reports indicated that as of June 2004, the number of displaced in Liberia still totalled between 350,000 and 500,000, while the number of refugees living abroad came to around 300,000. In November 2004, refugees and the displaced gradually began returning to their places of origin - mainly in the southeast, central, and northern regions of Liberia. Many received assistance from UN agencies, while others began returning on their own. The final return will officially be planned before mid-2006, provided peace holds. Caritas reports that around 40% of the returning families are female-headed households, as many men died or disappeared during the conflict.

The Caritas network responded immediately to the crisis in August 2003 by sending an Emergency Response Support Team (ERST) to help local member, Caritas Liberia, reach out to its war-torn population. The programme, which focused on delivering emergency relief assistance in the form of food aid, health care, and essential non-food items to refugees and the displaced, was implemented by three diocesan Caritas agencies in Liberia (Monrovia, Gbarnga, and Cape Palmas). The programme ran from September 2003 until the end of 2004, with support and coordination from Caritas Internationalis and other CI member organisations.

Following an evaluation last year, CI member and facilitating partner, CORDAID (Caritas Netherlands) and its Emergency and Rehabilitation Department (ERD), concluded that there was still a great need for relief aid, and that attention needed to be given to rehabilitating food production, water supplies, and shelter, as well as basic services such as health care, education, and communications. After consultations with Caritas Liberia and other CI members, the decision was made to launch a new rehabilitation programme.

The programme's main objective is to assist vulnerable families in rebuilding their lives and reclaiming their livelihoods. Among the most vulnerable are households headed by women, who are now shouldering additional responsibilities and workloads. Under the appeal, Caritas will distribute essential non-food items (kitchen utensils, buckets, kerosene lamps, kerosene, blankets, soap, and second-hand clothing) to at least 6,100 families (up to a maximum of 12,200 families) who are returning to their places of origin. On average, families are made up of six people. Attention will also be given to providing building materials to around 600 families to help them construct or rehabilitate houses. In a bid to kick start food production and animal husbandry, Caritas will provide seeds and tools to 6,000 families in at least six counties, fishing gear to 100 families in several coastal counties, and livestock to 30 groups/villages (about 10 people each) in around six counties.

Caritas Internationalis is a confederation of 162 Catholic relief, development, and social service organisations present in 200 countries and territories.

For more information, contact:

Lynn Yuill, Head of CI Communications Department

Tel: (+39) 06 698 797 43 Email: yuill@caritas.va or editorial.coordinator@caritas.va