UNHCR has officially become the 10th cosponsor of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), joining other UN Member agencies (ILO, UNDCP, UNDP, UNESCO, UNFPA, UNICEF, WFP, WHO) as well as the World Bank to combat the virus. UNHCR's new status will enable it become a strong advocate for the inclusion and integration of refugees into host countries' HIV policies and programmes.
UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Mr. Ruud Lubbers has recognized that awareness and prevention campaign is an important instrument to reduce HIV infection by providing information on socio-cultural traditions and behaviors, which tend to exacerbate the problem of HIV/AIDS in refugee camps. There is a need to also ensure that gender-sensitive measures are adopted to prevent the spread of the disease and to support those living with the disease.
UNHCR's ongoing HIV/AIDS programs in Liberia, in collaboration with other UN Agencies and NGOs, target refugees as well as surrounding host communities, which are often located in remote areas. Already plans are being finalized in Grand Gedeh County for enhancing awareness and prevention campaigns, which will include distribution of condoms to the adult community. UNHCR is also providing material to bolster the efforts of the field offices in addition to the drama, plays, talks that they have planned for the communities and schools. A series of trainings are being conducted in the refugee camps addressing the needs of the refugees and the management agencies operating there.
A HIV / AIDS mission to Liberia by UNHCR HIV / AIDS Regional Coordinators from West and Central Africa has stressed the importance of gathering HIV / AIDS data from Liberia and the neighboring asylum countries as well as production and dissemination Information, Education, and Communication (IEC) and Behavioral change communication messages (BCC) materials as a priority. Other priorities include emphasis on training Community Health Workers for community outreach and integrated community-based condom promotion and distribution.
UNHCR Continues to Pursue Durable Solutions for Sierra Leonean refugees
UNHCR continues to facilitate the voluntary repatriation of Sierra Leonean refugees although the 30th June deadline for the cessation of assistance to the Sierra Leonean refugees has expired. UNHCR has taken this measure to ensure the safe and dignified return of those refugees who have come forward to register for the repatriation exercise. The extension is expected to expire on 16 July 2004. From 25 June to 7 July 2004, a total of 3,219 persons repatriated. Pre-registration will continue until July 7. Meanwhile, the post management plan for the residual caseload of Sierra Leonean refugees is now under discussion focusing on local integration, which includes naturalization. The post management strategy takes into account update of the registration plan, conduct of a verification exercise and assistance in the area of developmental activities. The Government counterpart (LRRRC) and other implementing partners, to be identified, will work closely with the Refugee Agency to implement this local integration program.