Liberia + 1 more

Repatriation and Reintegration in Liberia Summary of Recommendations

USCR Site Visit to Liberia, Guinea, Cote d'Ivoire (October 1999)
Nov 1999: Findings and Recommendations
Nov 1999: Future Unknown: Liberians Face Fragile Transition to Peace

Nov 1999: State Department Scales Back Family-Based Refugee Processing for Africans


Liberia Country Report

A. Security Conditions

Liberian government leaders, including the President, should conduct regular visits to upper Lofa county to discipline government soldiers and help resolve continued population displacement.

The UN Special Representative in Liberia should work with the Liberian government to facilitate regular UN assessment trips to upper Lofa county to monitor humanitarian and human rights conditions there. The UN should support similar assessments by local NGOs and human rights organizations.

International aid agencies in Liberia should maintain updated evacuation plans.

The international community should provide financial or logistical support to facilitate regular reporting by local journalists and human rights groups on events in rural counties.

The Liberian government should allow local independent radio stations to broadcast news and information nationwide. The international community should provide support for these broadcasts.

The Liberian government, particularly President Charles Taylor, should impose proper accountability on the country's various security forces and should rapidly and publicly punish abuses by security personnel.

UNHCR programs in Liberia, Guinea, and Cote d'Ivoire require substantially larger protection staffs to monitor and, if possible, help prevent incidents that aggravate insecurity in Liberia and its border areas. [See Section H below for elaboration on UNHCR protection needs.]

B. Politics and Human Rights

The U.S. ambassador should maintain a high public profile in consistently emphasizing the need for political reform, accountability, and human rights. The new U.S. ambassador in Liberia should seek to create "political space" for proper civic debate in Liberia.

The American ambassador should pointedly reach out to all sectors of society, including those few departments in Liberia's national and local government that make a serious effort to govern responsibly. The U.S. ambassador should regularly specify, publicly, reform steps the Liberian government must take to attract additional international support.

The U.S. government should resume full funding for "democracy and governance" programs by the Carter Center, the National Democratic Institute, and other qualified organizations. Congressional opposition to these programs in Liberia is unwise and counterproductive to Liberia's future stability.

The U.S. government and other international donors should provide funding to strengthen the Justice and Peace Commission, as well as other credible human rights organizations. JPC should remain a bell-weather for human rights in Liberia.

C. Reintegration

Liberia's national leaders, including President Charles Taylor, should regularly visit all counties "up country" to foster reconciliation and demonstrate support for the efforts of residents to rebuild their local communities. Such visits might also encourage voluntary repatriation.

The Liberian government should ensure that local officials remain at their posts in rural areas and are responsive to the needs of local residents.

International NGOs and funders should seek to expand development programs outside the capital and strengthen indigenous NGOs operating "up country."

International donors should provide resources to UNHCR/Liberia and the Liberian government's Refugee Repatriation and Rehabilitation Commission to investigate and address the problem Mandingo returnees have encountered when trying to re-occupy their homes in Lofa and Nimba counties. The problem appears to be occurring in some areas that are otherwise secure and accessible.

The governments of Liberia and Guinea should agree to open the border and take steps to address security concerns on both sides of the border.

D. Liberian Society

Liberian refugees, exiles, and other Liberians living abroad should continue to consider the feasibility of returning to live in Liberia to help repair the economic and political damage in their country. Liberia's recovery is handicapped by their absence from the country.

Liberian political, religious, and civic leaders should continue to stress the necessity of Liberians trying to find their own solutions to the country's difficult political, economic, and social reintegration problems.

Liberian schools, with support from international aid donors, should incorporate themes of human rights, reconciliation, and basic civics into all levels of curriculum. Schools and churches should receive support to provide special counseling and training programs to address the post-war needs of Liberia's youth population.

E. International Assistance Strategies

The development aid strategy of the United States and other donors should be cautious, but not negligent. Carefully chosen projects should receive adequate financial and diplomatic support. Aid strategies should strengthen indigenous organizations while circumventing corrupt or unreliable departments of the Liberian government.

In order to use limited aid dollars most effectively to support reintegration and development in Liberia, USAID should coordinate a special assessment mission to Liberia with Friends of Liberia, an organization composed of former Peace Corps volunteers and others with expert knowledge of Liberia. The purpose of the collaboration should be to identify and recommend grassroots projects worth funding throughout the country.

USAID officials have been unable to travel extensively in Liberia because of security restrictions during much of 1999. They might lack sufficient information about the full range of reintegration and development projects that merit funding. Friends of Liberia would bring intimate knowledge of Liberia and unique grassroots access to this assessment project.

Aid projects that address "democracy and governance" issues warrant priority, including programs that emphasize civic education, the rule of law, government accountability, and press independence.

Funders and NGOs should gradually expand micro-credit programs, drawing on the lessons of current loan projects operating in Liberia. Properly operated micro-loan programs should seek to diversify business activity beyond the usual soap-making and tie-dye enterprises. Small loan programs should provide special training for loan recipients to improve skills, business operation, and adult literacy.

International funders should support at least modest road repairs and maintenance in important returnee areas such as Grand Gedah, Sinoe, and Maryland counties. Food-for-work programs should include road repair projects.

Donors should support construction of classrooms despite shortages of school equipment.

F. Current Liberian Refugees: Demographics

UNHCR should continue to conduct verification exercises at selected sites in Guinea and Cote d'Ivoire to refine estimates of refugee numbers. Donors should support continued census efforts planned by UNHCR.

G. Current Liberian Refugees:

Repatriation / International Resettlement

Guinea authorities should re-open their border with Liberia so that voluntary repatriations of Liberian refugees can resume and new Liberian refugees can reach safety in Guinea if necessary. The Guinean government has a responsibility under international refugee law to open its border for refugees seeking protection.

If the border remains officially closed, Guinean officials should establish clearly defined "repatriation corridors" to allow Liberian refugees to return home in organized convoys or in spontaneous fashion.

UNHCR/Guinea and international donors should be prepared to extend the deadline for organized repatriation beyond December 1999.

UNHCR/Guinea and donors should push ahead with plans to reduce care and maintenance assistance for most old caseload Liberian refugees (those who arrived pre-1999) in favor of programs that facilitate refugees' self-sufficiency and local integration. UNHCR/Guinea should be prepared to extend local integration programs beyond the current July 2000 deadline if the border closure continues to block repatriation.

UNHCR/Guinea should be prepared to delay scheduled staff reductions in areas of Guinea that contain substantial Liberian refugee populations, such as the Nzerekore and Macenta areas. The border closure and insecurity in northern Liberia might keep Liberian refugees in Guinea longer than expected, necessitating larger staffs than planned.

While maintaining adequate staffing for Liberian refugees, UNHCR and donors should add additional staff posts to improve protection and assistance for Sierra Leonean refugees in Guinea.

The U.S. government and other donors to UNHCR/Guinea should increase funding so that UNHCR/Guinea can deploy adequate staff to monitor and assist some 400,000 Liberian and Sierra Leonean refugees.

A reduced number of refugee schools should re-open in Guinea and Cote d'Ivoire. Re-opening too many schools, however, might act as a magnet for Liberians who have already repatriated and will probably discourage repatriation by some refugees who otherwise could return home safely.

The current school year for Liberian refugee children should serve as a transition to eventual integration with local educational systems. Refugee schools should emphasize French language instruction (the official language in Guinea and Cote d'Ivoire) to prepare refugee students for eventual integration into the educational systems of Guinea and Cote d'Ivoire.

The U.S. government, specifically the State Department's Bureau for Population, Refugees, and Migration (BPRM), should make more resources available to UNHCR to help UNHCR's staff on the ground understand and implement proper procedures for U.S. resettlement of Liberian refugees. U.S. officials should initiate an information campaign in refugee zones to help refugees achieve a realistic understanding of limited eligibilities for the U.S. resettlement program.

H. Current Liberian Refugees: Protection Concerns

UNHCR should immediately triple its protection staff in Liberia, Guinea, and Cote d'Ivoire. UNHCR headquarters in Geneva should issue a special appeal to fund more protection officers. The United States and other international donors should respond quickly to redress a protection situation that is fundamentally unethical and would not be tolerated in refugee crises in most other regions of the world.

Guinean authorities should cease harassment and arbitrary detentions of Liberian refugees and should discipline security personnel who persist in such practices. Guinean officials should publicly remind the Guinean population and local authorities that bona fide Liberian refugees are welcome in Guinea.

The Guinean government should not withhold assistance to future new refugees from Liberia, as it did with new refugee arrivals in August. UNHCR should work aggressively to identify and offer assistance to refugees who have arrived in Guinea since August.

Transfer of Daro camp residents to a new location should be a priority. UNHCR/Guinea should complete the relocation as rapidly as possible.

I. Current Liberian Refugees: Assistance Issues

UNHCR should continue to encourage voluntary repatriation by most Liberian refugees, except those who originate from Liberia's troubled upper Lofa county. Despite difficult conditions in Liberia, safe repatriation is feasible for many current refugees. UNHCR should continue to promote local integration of old caseload Liberian refugees who are unable or unwilling to repatriate.

With the largest refugee caseload in Africa and difficult working conditions, Guinea should be a top priority within the UNHCR system. UNHCR/Guinea needs significantly stronger support from UNHCR/Geneva and from international donors. UNHCR/Guinea is a traditionally weak program that has recently improved. It continues to face immense obstacles with meager resources.

The U.S. government should ensure that the U.S. refugee resettlement program reinforces rather than overwhelms UNHCR activities in Guinea and Cote d'Ivoire. The United States has a special responsibility to ensure that UNHCR programs in these two countries are not forced to divert staff from other important responsibilities in order to administer the U.S. resettlement program.

J. Sierra Leonean Refugees in Liberia

UNHCR/Liberia should complete the transfer of Sierra Leonean refugees from Tarvey to Sinje camp as rapidly as possible

Sierra Leonean refugees transferring to Sinje camp cannot be expected to become half self sufficient by January. New refugees at Sinje camp require full food rations for several additional months before donors can reasonably expect them to support themselves.