The facilitated repatriation of Liberian refugees continued with four separate convoys bringing home 1,417 (1,040 from Guinea and 377 from Sierra Leone). This brought the total number of returnees assisted under the voluntary repatriation exercise to 12,913 since 01 October 2005. There were also reported continued spontaneous returns particularly from Sierra Leone, Guinea and Cote d'Ivoire. Although small in number, returnee movement from Cote d'Ivoire is largely being triggered by the unstable security situation there.
Aid agencies reported that areas in Lofa were already becoming difficult to move into due to the deterioration of the roads from early rains. Bad road conditions were also reported in Maryland County and other parts of the country where repatriation is due to shortly begin.
Meanwhile, the first 145 former internees forming part of the 435 ex-combatants who surrendered to Sierra Leone in 2002 during the height of the Liberian war returned home on 06 April. They were repatriated under a special arrangement organized by the governments of Sierra Leone and Liberia and the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) who are also taking the lead role in this exercise. The convoy bringing the ex-combatants was accompanied by officials of the Sierra Leonean government, UNHCR and ICRC. Liberian officials and the UN family received them. A brief ceremony to mark their return was held upon arrival at Bo Waterside.
This followed series of discussions among various stakeholders within the framework of an inter-agency/governmental taskforce, which led to the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between Liberia and Sierra Leone to operationalise the return of the ex-combatants. UNHCR was involved in the planning process in both Liberia and Sierra Leone at the technical level. In addition, UNHCR-Liberia is making its Way Station facilities and trucks available for the in-country movement of the returning internees. Provisions have been made through UNHCR implementing partners for hot meals and accommodation as well as a local transport grant to facilitate their movement to their final destinations.
UNHCR also held discussions with five human rights organizations in the central Liberian town of Gbarnga to enhance inter-agency coordination in terms of information sharing. UNHCR also conducted a workshop on Sexual Gender-Based Violence (SGBV) in Bong County for 39 staff members of its implementing partners (Smile Africa, International Medical Corps and GTZ). This was a follow up to a workshop organized by the American Refugee Council, another UNHCR partner.
As part of efforts to increase awareness among its staff and staff of implementing partners, and in consonance with the Secretary-General's Bulletin relating to Sexual Exploitation and Abuse (SEA), UNHCR organized a workshop at Field Office Tubmanburg on 7 April. The workshop put in plain words the background and legal framework of the SEA and the policy of UNHCR against the practice. The workshop was part of a wider campaign nationwide by UNHCR to ensure that its staff and those of its implementing partners guide themselves against Sexual Exploitation and Abuse and other practices that are not in line with UNHCR's traditional values as stipulated in its Code of Conduct.
As part of UNHCR's inter-agency collaboration with UNDP, and within the 4Rs programming framework, UNDP sent a five-day mission (6-10 April) to Voinjama Lofa County with the aim of establishing a presence in the county. The two agencies plan to work together to implement 27 projects in Lofa (2 water & sanitation, 5 health, 16 schools and 4 transport infrastructure).