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Liberian Refugees Returning Home Face Stark Conditions - 2004-07-23

The U.N.'s expert on Liberia says tens of thousands of refugees who are returning to their homes are finding few resources and no electricity. Some are concerned that the mass influx of people will upset the fragile peace in Liberia.

According to U.N. refugee agency estimates, some 50,000 Liberian refugees have begun traveling back to their homeland in the past year, after major fighting ended and peace deals were signed last August. Many were forced to flee to Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast, or Guinea.

The U.N.'s expert on Liberia, Charlotte Abaka, who recently returned from a trip to there, says many who are arriving home are discovering more squalid conditions than they may have expected.

"Most of them could not go to their local places, because there is just nothing there," she said. "I mean, I was there, outside Monrovia. There are no houses to go into. There are no hospitals. There are no schools. Sanitation is extremely poor. There is no electricity in Liberia. And therefore, certain social amenities have to be put in place before the estimated date of repatriation."

The U.N.'s official repatriation program is not scheduled to begin until October, when the rainy season ends and Liberia's roads become easier to travel.

Ms. Abaka noted that Liberia has seen a great deal of improvement in the area of human rights. But she said recent statistics show that the unemployment rate in Liberia is 80 percent, and she is concerned that lack of jobs or the means to fulfill basic needs will foster the potential for more violence.

"The situation as it is now is that there is a wide gap between the DD, that's the disarmament and the demobilization, and rehabilitation and reintegration, with the dangerous consequences of strong men and women having been disarmed and demobilized, but having nothing to do," she added.

Ms. Abaka says more of the countries that pledged hundreds of millions of dollars during a donor conference in Washington in February must make good on their promises, and she called the current influx of money "woefully inadequate." The funding is supposed to help train a new Liberian police force and rebuild the infrastructure in Liberia in advance of elections, which are planned for next year.