There was a celebration Thursday in Monrovia to mark the end of a UN operation to return hundreds of thousands of displaced Liberians to their homes. Most of the IDPs ? or internally displaced people ? returned to Lofa, Bong and Bomi counties.
Annette Rehrl is a spokesperson for the UN refugee agency, UNHCR. From the Liberian capital, she spoke to English to Africa reporter Joe De Capua about the effort to return the displaced people.
?UNHCR committed itself in November 2004 to assist 314,095 IDPs, which by then were registered in camps. That means they had rations, food cards from the WFP (World Food program). And we committed ourselves to assist them by providing them protection assistance, non-food items?and transport to allow them to reach their communities or origin.?
The counties in question were hard hit by Liberia?s civil war. ?It was an enormous exercise and we did not do it completely alone. It was a very, very good working inter-agency collaborative approach with other agencies, international NGOs and local NGOs involved. And if we consider the number we moved within 16 months, over 300,000 people, bringing them back and sending them back to basically northern and western Liberia, which had been completely destroyed by the war, [it] was quite a challenge. But it went very well. And now the challenge still is ongoing because those people are back and still need our assistance.?
As for refugees, those who fled to neighboring countries, Rehrl says, ?Well, we already brought home over 62,000 in the last 16 months, 17 months also. There are still about 170,000 in neighboring countries left.? Efforts continue to bring them back to Liberia or help them settle in the countries where they are now living.