One of the most challenging tasks facing the new Liberian government will be to facilitate the return of an estimated one million refugees and internally displaced persons.7 As people return, they are likely to find everything they left behind looted or destroyed. Communities have been shattered; the fighters who caused the death anddestruction remain in the area; important infrastructure like roads and bridges are destroyed; and economic opportunity, health, and educational services are virtually non-existent outside Monrovia. Some returnees are coming back to find that their homes have been occupied by former faction fighters or other displaced persons. In other cases, people remain unwilling to come back, either because of the lack of material assistance required to help them rebuild their homes and farms or because of their fear of persecution. The government and the international community need to work together to provide adequate material assistance and assurances of security and safety to permit people to return home permanently.

Refugees and the Efforts of UNHCR

Responsibility for the protection and return of the half million Liberian refugees outside the country lies largely with the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), with assistance from a number of nongovernmental organizations, many of whom serve as UNHCR's implementing partners.8 According to UNHCR, the most recent count indicates that there are almost 500,000 Liberian refugees in neighboring African countries: 210,000 in Ivory Coast; 210,000 in Guinea; 13,600 in Sierra Leone; 17,000 in Ghana; and 6,000 in Nigeria. Most of the refugees are women and children of rural background. Approximately 75 percent of them come from Lofa and Nimba counties in northern Liberia. Human Rights Watch/Africa interviewed Liberian refugees in Ivory Coast and Guinea.

Education, Health and Shelter in Ivory Coast and Guinea

In Ivory Coast, these refugees are, for the most part, integrated into the local population. A range of nongovernmental organizations, along with UNHCR, have made primary and secondary school opportunities available for refugees in Ivory Coast. However, many of the schools are overcrowded, and books and other educational materials are in short supply. In addition, the educational needs of the population have been difficult to meet, due to the refugees' psychological and material problems. Almost all of the children were traumatized by the violence, either as direct combatants, victims, or witnesses. Teachers interviewed by Human Rights Watch/Africa described the problems they face in educating these youngsters, many of whom lost years of education during the war. The lack of education caused by the war is so extreme that many kindergarten and first grade classrooms contain teenage or adult students. Another problem is presented by the large number of young people-fifteen in one of several schools in Danane visited by Human Rights Watch/Africa-who have no family or shelter and sleep in an abandoned building behind the school. These children find it extremely difficult to pay the small fee required so that they can join their classmates for the once-daily school feeding program. Moreover, the circumstances under which they live make learning difficult for many of these youngsters.

Health services in Ivory Coast, while available to refugees, are limited in two significant ways. First, the clinics have a standing policy by which refugees must come first for diagnosis and then travel to the pharmacy in order to purchase medication, even in emergency cases. Human Rights Watch/Africa heard reports of the deaths of refugees that were directly attributable to the time delay between diagnosis and actual administration of a needed drug. Another problem in attending to the health needs of refugees arises from the language (being English-speaking in a Francophone country) and cultural barriers between the Liberian refugees and the Ivorians. Because of these differences, refugees often find it difficult to get urgent medical attention or to make their medical problems known to Ivorian health personnel. In Guinea, health services are even more limited and many refugees must travel long distances on difficult roads in order to reach a hospital equipped to treat their illnesses.

Many refugees in both Ivory Coast and Guinea have constructed semi-permanent shelters or rent homes. In the rainy season, many of these structures leak, and plastic tarpaulin, provided by UNHCR, is a highly valued commodity. UNHCR has gradually taken certain categories of persons off of their distribution lists for the tarpaulin, and currently maintains that only the vulnerable groups (widows, single mothers, the elderly, sick or disabled) are to receive it. However, Human Rights Watch/Africa received testimony from refugees and agency personnel that some of the refugees on these lists in Ivory Coast and many of them in Guinea, have never received the promised tarpaulin. Without the tarpaulin, securing adequate roofing materials is costly and difficult. The local roofing material is called papos (a kind of thatch) and refugees must pay local Ivorians and Guineans for access to their land and for the papos they cut. Human Rights Watch/Africa documented large quantities of the tarpaulin for sale on the open market in urban centers such as N'zerekore, Guinea. When discussed with UNHCR officials, the marketing of the plastic sheeting was explained as material re-sold by the refugees to Guinean merchants. It is certainly true that refugees sell tarpaulin in order to gain needed income or to purchase other food or household items. However, the large quantities of tarpaulin seen on the open market, some in unopened packages of fifty, appear to indicate that some of the plastic sheeting was moving directly from UNHCR warehouse facilities or trucks to the marketplace.

Protection Issues

In both Guinea and Ivory Coast, there are groups of refugees and individuals who have particular protection needs. These needs may become even more pressing when the UNHCR moves from the facilitation phase of its repatriation program to actively encouraging and promoting return (tentatively scheduled to begin in October 1997, according to one UNHCR official). As with any refugee population, there are certain individuals who remain extremely fearful of return home. Individuals interviewed by Human Rights Watch/Africa mentioned grounds such as fear of reprisals for acts their relatives committed as soldiers during the war, or targeting because of activism against and vocal opposition to Charles Taylor and his faction, the NPFL. Some individuals were threatened by fellow refugees during their time in exile because they continued these activities or because of testimony they gave to journalists. Such individuals continue to have valid reasons to fear returning to Liberia, and UNHCR and the host government authorities will need to address the needs of these individuals during the repatriation.

Some refugees are reluctant to return to Liberia because of their prior experience with repatriation. A number of refugees participated in a UNHCR repatriation program to Monrovia that was implemented in the early months of 1996. The security situation appeared calm at this time and refugees were informed that those who could establish that they had relatives in Monrovia who would assist them, would be transported back. Unfortunately, in the first week of April 1996, NPFL and ULIMO forces engaged in heavy fighting against government and ECOMOG troops in Monrovia. Many of the refugees who had so recently returned under the auspices of UNHCR were forced to flee a second time.

Another group of refugees who suffer greatly from lack of protection in both Guinea and Ivory Coast are unaccompanied minors. Problems such as malnutrition, prostitution, and lack of education are particularly acute among unaccompanied minors. As of the end of July, UNHCR was beginning a series of meetings with nongovernmental organizations to try to determine how to address the needs of this particularly vulnerable group. However, considering the fact that many of these young people had been living as refugees for two years or more, the planning meetings appeared to be a late initiative. The minors will also require specialized attention by UNHCR during its repatriation and reintegration efforts.

Assistance and Protection Issues Particular to Guinea

In both Ivory Coast and Guinea, Liberians are restricted to certain areas of the country (zone d'acceuil) and lose the right to receive food rations or retain refugee status if they move outside of this zone. This policy was designed to discourage an urban influx of refugees and to cut costs. Food rations were reduced in 1996 by UNHCR due to limited resources and the (false) assumption that the refugees should have achieved a level of self-sufficiency. As a result, food remains in short supply. Refugees are not able to find jobs and many serve as casual day labor on farms, or sharecrop to supplement the meager food allowance.

In Guinea, most refugees are concentrated around the remote forest region near the border with Liberia. The assistance problems faced by refugees in Guinea are considerably more acute than those faced in Ivory Coast. Refugees are found mostly in UNHCR-supported camps. However, in one local community, called Diecke, UNHCR has refused to offer any assistance to refugees. This is primarily because in September 1994, UNHCR decided to move the Liberian refugees to a remote area of land located in dense tropical rainforest. At the time, UNHCR officials explained that the relocation was necessary because of the widespread fraud that had taken place during a registration run by the agency earlier in the year. As an interim measure, all refugees were told to relocate to a camp made up of twenty-six plastic tents on the outskirts of the town. Some refugees died of cholera during this period.

One refugee explained to Human Rights Watch/Africa how the transfer from the transit camp to the remote location, (eventually called "Nonah Camp" ), was executed:

The refugees were asked to go to Nonah Camp in order to do about one month intensive labor in order to clear the rainforest to make room for the camp. UNHCR officials came to oversee the transfer and two armored carriers and a truckload of armed men were brought to provide security. Refugees in the transit camp were told to board the waiting trucks to carry them to Nonah, but individuals who had remained behind in Diecke were blocked from coming to the transit area by the soldiers.9

The large number of refugees left behind in Diecke have received no assistance from UNHCR nor any of the agencies who serve as their implementing partners. Without UNHCR intervention on their behalf, and without any legitimate identity papers, the refugees suffered a range of protection problems. Some of the refugees left behind were arrested by the Guinean authorities and were forced to remain in the overcrowded local jail for weeks at a time. In addition, kwashiorkor, marasmus, diarrhea, worm infestation and malaria caused widespread illness and mortality. Only with the arrival of church-based nongovernmental organizations in 1994, and some assistance from the humanitarian group, Medecins sans Frontieres (MSF) in 1995, did the situation of the refugees in Diecke improve. To date, however, this group of several thousand refugees must survive without the protection or assistance of UNHCR.

Refugees in each of the camps in Guinea (Baala, Bheta, Diecke, Nonah, Soopa, and Yowah) visited by Human Rights Watch/Africa were facing a range of problems. Malnutrition and diarrhoea still plague refugees in all of these camps, and children are still dying in small numbers each month from these and other illnesses. Makeshift schools exist in most of the camps, sponsored by a range of nongovernmental organizations, and often constructed by the refugees themselves. However, the "classrooms"-sometimes consisting of a row of sticks pounded into the earth-are over-crowded, and students lack books, pencils and paper. Moreover, only primary education is provided in the UNHCR camps, and therefore many refugee children are sent by their families to Diecke or N'zerekore for high school education. While most of these children find shelter with friends or other family members, some must live unaccompanied. These children sometimes get involved with prostitution or petty crime in order to make ends meet. Almost all suffer from the lack of any support and guidance.

The problems of rationing are particularly acute in Guinea, where the poverty level is higher than in Ivory Coast. Human Rights Watch/Africa, through interviews with refugees, and representatives of Medecins sans Frontieres (MSF) and other nongovernmental organizations, learned of incidences of high rates of malnutrition and infant and child mortality occurring in pockets of the refugee population. These problems are more acute during theplanting season when food is in short supply. Seasonal variations in food supply are exacerbated by the fact that distributions have been cut, twice in 1994 (when roughly 80,000 of the refugees were considered returnees to Guinea and classified as internally displaced and when a re-registration exercise attempted to expunge those who had registered fraudulently) and again in 1995 following a UNHCR survey that indicated that some of the refugees were self-sufficient or had returned.

The degree of refugee self-sufficiency is extremely difficult to measure. The assessment, is complicated by factors such as: all refugees in Guinea must rent or negotiate access to land with the local people placing an additional burden on their levels of economic independence; a large proportion of refugees are women and children, who are unable to maintain self-sufficiency as easily as males; and levels of income and food resources vary across the year and between camps and regions in Guinea. According to MSF, in certain areas such as Yomou, Diecke, and Bodou, the rates of malnutrition are high and are exacerbated by seasonal variations in agricultural output. These regional and seasonal variations contradict UNHCR's assumption that recent refugee arrivals are more vulnerable than those who have been in Guinea for a number of years. According to interviews with refugees in Nonah, Soopa, Bheta, Baala and Yowah camps, food distributions are irregular. The deliveries are also sometimes subject to looting. In July 1997, for example, fifty bags of rice were stolen from a warehouse in Bheta camp.

The security situation in the refugee camps in Guinea is problematic. Rumors abound about possible rebel attacks and, at Soopa, Bheta, and Yowah camps, the refugees had been visited by Guinean military personnel and threatened with attacks from "the rebels." At Bheta, there were attempts to admit Liberian refugees who had been living in Sierra Leone but who had left due to the insecurity there. According to refugees living in the camp, the Guinean authorities refused to accept one group of these refugees and accused them of being rebels. No one was sure where they had gone. At Soopa, refugees simply stayed inside their huts in the camps once night fell and no incidents occurred. At Yowah, refugees who were part of the camp leadership explained that they were visited in the first week of June 1997 by a known Guinean military officer who was dressed in civilian clothes. According to the refugees, this officer warned them that there were rebels in the area who were planning to attack the camp, and ordered them to evacuate before June 24, 1997. As a result, approximately 700 people fled Yowah camp prior to the deadline. The individual in charge of the school feeding program at Yowah indicated that approximately 200 children fled with their families. Refugees interviewed explained that many of these people were forced to cross back into to Liberia because of this threat.

Views on Repatriation

In May 1997, UNHCR relaunched a twice-delayed eighteen month repatriation operation for Liberian refugees.10 UNHCR will be setting up branches in seven places in Liberia: Voinjama, Vahun, Monrovia, Gbarnga, Zwedru, Harpur, and Bo Waterside. This will bolster protection and monitoring of refugee reintegration and is likely to be seen as a signal for return to begin. UNHCR has planned a two-phase repatriation: "Facilitated repatriation" (phase I) to provide assistance to refugees that have decided on their own to return, and "promoted repatriation" (phase II) where UNHCR actively encourages refugees to return. Each returning family will receive plastic sheeting, a plastic jerry can, a kitchen set, two blankets, two mats and agricultural tools, as well as two months' food rations. Inside Liberia, UNHCR will be funding Quick Impact Projects ("Quips") to generate short-term economic projects, and will coordinate with international and government agencies to ensure that returnees are integrated into long-term reconstruction and development programs. A tentative time frame for this UNHCR-assisted repatriation is: Guinea, nine months to a year; Ivory Coast, eight to ten months; Ghana, four to five months; Sierra Leone, two to five months; Nigeria, one to three months. These time lines should be viewed flexibly by UNHCR.

Not surprisingly, the views of Liberian refugees interviewed by Human Rights Watch/Africa as to whether they are willing to return to Liberia now that the war has ended hold mixed views on the subject. There has been some voluntary return by refugees, but in limited numbers. The inflow is expected to increase after the rains. For many refugees, the election and the end of the war are the benchmarks they were waiting for in order to return. Although neighboring African countries have, for the most part, generously extended refuge to the Liberians since the war began,11 the political, economic and social problems in these host countries have led to some resentment against the refugees on the part of the local population in the border areas.

A study conducted by the Liberian nongovernmental organization, the Center for Law and Human Rights Education, in October 1996, found that in Ivory Coast, Guinea and Ghana, UNHCR had done little to provide protection to unaccompanied children, or to organize legal assistance to refugees who are often jailed because of their lack of knowledge of the law, language barriers (French), lack of legal counsel, and lack of funds to post bail even for minor offenses. UNHCR officials were reportedly inaccessible to refugees: they did not provide services consistently in the different countries, and they did not give adequate support for local refugee efforts or sufficiently utilize qualified Liberians.12 During the war, refugees in Ivory Coast and Guinea were periodically subject to cross border attacks by warring factions. The constant reminders of being an outsider, the limitations this status carries with it, and the pull of home are strong factors in the desire of many refugees to return to Liberia now that the war has ended.

Other refugees expressed a strong reluctance to return to Liberia now that Charles Taylor has been elected, either because they and their families were outspoken opponents or victims of Taylor faction fighters, or because they belong to the Krahn or Mandingo ethnic groups, which were targeted by Taylor's faction during the war. Mandingo refugees are found mainly in Guinea, while Krahn refugees (from Grand Gedeh county) are based mainly in Ivory Coast.

Although the war is ended in Liberia, the situation is still not conducive to support a full-scale organized repatriation. The lack of infrastructure and the transitional political situation requires a staggered and slow repatriation. Security remains a major concern since the demobilization of fighters has still not occurred and there are fears that once the regional peacekeepers depart, criminal or political violence will rise. Many refugees are reluctant to return until they can be sure of what the security situation will be like under Taylor. Some of these people foresee a six-month to year long waiting period after the election before they will consider going home. Aware of these considerations, UNHCR has commendably taken an approach that recognizes that the refugees will require some time before they can return. At this stage, UNHCR is not actively encouraging or sponsoring the repatriation of refugees, only "facilitating voluntary repatriation" for those refugees who express a desire to return voluntarily and/or have begun to do so on their own initiative.

Some refugees have begun to move between Ivory Coast or Guinea and Liberia to begin to set up their homes for an eventual move. These refugees, mostly men, have been coming to survey the situation and to rebuild their homes, while leaving their families outside Liberia. Some refugees stated that they will bring their families backonce health care and educational facilities are available in Liberia. Others plan to return for the next planting season after the harvest in October so that food is available once they return.

According to UNHCR and the refugees, immigration officials in Ivory Coast generally permit the refugees to cross back and forth freely without harassment or intimidation. Liberians who cross the border into Ivory Coast from Grand Gedeh County in Liberia are treated with more suspicion due to the fact that military incursions occurred over this part of the border during the war. In Guinea, however, refugees are being regularly harassed by immigration officials as they return. They are asked to give a "sacrifice," as it is known, to the Guinean immigration officials-items such as mattresses, cooking utensils, food or money. Often immigration officials take what little the refugees have with them before allowing them to pass on the grounds that the refugees "came to Guinea with nothing and so they should return to Liberia with nothing." In July 1997, UNHCR signed an agreement with the government of Guinea to facilitate the refugees' return and to end this harassment.

The Internally Displaced13

Hundreds of thousands of internally displaced Liberians who were driven from their homes by the violence and insecurity of the past seven years are living like refugees within their own country. Up to now, there has been no accurate count to determine how many people remain internally displaced. Estimates vary widely: from 500,000 to one million by the government body, the Liberia Refugee, Repatriation and Resettlement Commission (LRRRC), to 250,00 to 300,000 by UNHCR staff. Most have been living in squalid and destitute conditions for a number of years, some displaced several times during the course of the war. This group will need assistance to return to their homes all over the country. Yet, there appears to be little or no preparation at the national or international level to assist members of this huge population to return to their homes. Even information on the numbers and location of the internally displaced is much more scarce than on refugees, because no national or international body has the exclusive task of addressing the needs of the internally displaced. As a result, conditions for the internally displaced remain much worse than those of refugees. Human Rights Watch/Africa spoke with internally displaced persons in Montserrado, Bong, and Nimba counties.

It is estimated by the LRRRC that over half of all the internally displaced in the country are living around Monrovia. In the Monrovia area, the internally displaced are camped in some thirty sites,14 living in semi-permanent structures in crowded conditions with inadequate sanitation services. In some cases, displaced persons are living in overcrowded conditions in abandoned and disused buildings. Often the shelters lack water and sanitation and pose a health hazard. Because these camps grew gradually, without international humanitarian assistance, they are not well laid out in terms of services. As a result, one often finds that latrines or water pumps are placed at uneven distances in the camp or are in short supply. Food rations are provided regularly by humanitarian organizations, but give a bare minimum of food to families. In some cases, other displaced relatives have joined the family and the food is being shared with a larger number of people than it was intended for. In one camp, supplemental feeding forchildren under five was started by a humanitarian organization because the rate of malnutrition among these youngsters was 15 to 20 percent.

Human Rights Watch/Africa visited a number of these camps in the Monrovia area. Many of these camps are serviced by a variety of humanitarian organizations and the U.N., which provides food, water and other services to the camps. However, conditions remain inadequate and even dangerous in some places. At the "new" Ministry of Health building, thousands live in the scaffolded cement frame of an unfinished building that was under construction when the war broke out. In this shell, some 3,000 internally displaced live exposed to the elements, save for a few plastic or jute sheets that they have hung to cover the large openings where walls would have eventually been built. There are six toilets and one water pump for these residents. Inside the dim and dank structure, residents have lived for years in makeshift overcrowded rooms. At Samukai camp, some 9,000 internally displaced Liberians and Sierra Leonean refugees live side by side. There are only seven toilets for the camp's residents and only a few water pumps because several have broken. Many of the camp's residents are widows who lost their husbands and homes during the war.

Most of the internally displaced receive health and food assistance. Since many of the camps where the internally displaced live also contain Sierra Leonean refugees, UNHCR does provide some services which are also offered to the internally displaced Liberians. For instance, in a number of displaced persons camps, Liberian children at the elementary school level are able to attend the schooling provided by UNHCR. At the high school level, however, only Sierra Leonian refugees receive scholarships from UNHCR.

According to a physician's assistant at one of the displaced persons camps, the internally displaced were suffering most commonly from malaria, respiratory tract infections (made worse by the rainy season), diarrhea, and skin diseases. In Bong county, the internally displaced barely received any medical assistance. One displaced person said "if you have to go to the hospital here, there are no drugs. You are at the mercy of god. Either you live or die. But not because of medical help."15

In many displaced persons centers, children were attending elementary schools set up by humanitarian organizations in the area. However, little or no educational opportunities were available for displaced children of high school age. In some camps, children were not at school at all. In Kakata, one teacher told Human Rights Watch/Africa that their make-shift schools were full, even though many children were not in school. However, even when children did attend school, teachers find it difficult to get them to concentrate, often because the children are hungry.

Most of those interviewed by Human Rights Watch/Africa expressed a willingness to return to their homes, but were unable to because of the lack of material and financial assistance. The repeated refrain we heard from the internally displaced was "we want to go home, but our homes have been destroyed and we have nothing. How will survive if we return? We have nothing to rebuild our homes with or to replant our farms." The European Union (E.U.) has provided transport to help people return in a few cases. For most of the displaced, however, the transportation is not the main issue, as much as the question of how they would support themselves once they returned, without any means, destroyed homes, and no community infrastructure. The items which the internally displaced most commonly cited when asked what they would need to return included agricultural tools, roofing sheets, cooking utensils, nails and food. It does not take much to help these populations and there are communities returning on their own. Minimal resources should be provided to facilitate their return during the dry season.

In some cases, displaced persons have returned to find what remained of their homes occupied. In particular, returnees of Mandingo origin are returning to find their houses occupied. The long-standing discrimination in Liberiaagainst Mandingos as "aliens" or "foreigners" has contributed to the sentiment that Mandingo-owned property can be appropriated.

The one group of internally displaced persons that openly expressed an unwillingness to return were those from Grand Cape Mount County. Some from Grand Cape Mount County expressed the fear that the recent outbreak of fighting in neighboring Sierra Leone would spill over into Liberia and engulf their areas of origin.

Planning for the reintegration of the internally displaced by the international community has commenced. The World Food Programme (WFP) and its implementing partners have begun a detailed assessment of the numbers of internally displaced in the Monrovia area. In September, WFP, donors and UNHCR met to review regional food aid distribution in light of the changing situation.

The Liberia Refugee, Repatriation and Resettlement Commission

The Liberia Refugee, Repatriation and Resettlement Commission (LRRRC) is the national body that will be responsible for assisting people to return to their homes. The LRRRC was set up in 1993 by the transitional legislature by the "Act to Make Provisions for Refugees and to Establish the Liberia Refugee, Repatriation and Resettlement Commission." According to the 1993 law, the LRRRC is made up of the Executive Director (and staff), with representatives from the ministries of internal affairs, planning, foreign affairs, and justice (police and immigration branches). UNHCR has observer status on the commission. According to the 1993 law, the LRRRC's tasks are to:

(a) formulate policy on matters relating to refugees in the country;

(b) to exercise any other powers and to perform any other duties that may be assigned to the Commission by or in terms of this Act or by Executive directive; and

(c) to assist the Secretariat in soliciting local and international assistance for refugee related activities in the country.16

It is clear that the LRRRC is the most appropriate government agency to deal with the reintegration of the internally displaced given its mandate to deal with similarly situated refugees. The LRRRC staff interviewed by Human Rights Watch/Africa before the election asserted that their mandate included responsibility for the internally displaced. However, this point was refuted by some international agencies on the grounds that nowhere in the 1993 law are the internally displaced mentioned. The LRRRC stated that it is tasked with responsibility for the internally displaced based on a 1991 law which envisioned that such a national commission would be responsible for both internally and externally displaced persons. However, neither the LRRRC nor anyone in the transitional government appeared to be in possession of a copy of the 1991 law, not to mention the fact that the 1993 law might have superseded the previous act since they both speak to the same issue.17

A reading of the 1993 law may support the technical argument that the LRRRC has no mandate to deal with the internally displaced, and is restricted to returning Liberian refugees or refugees in Liberia (such as the Sierra Leoneans). However, such an interpretation of the role of the LRRRC in light of the equally desperate numbers ofinternally displaced would be an irresponsible move on the part of the new Liberian government. To clarity the existing ambiguities on the part of the international agencies that will work with the LRRRC, the Liberian legislature should pass a law that clarifies the LRRRC's mandate to provide for the reintegration needs of the internally displaced, in addition to its responsibilities for refugees.

Prior to the election, the LRRRC was virtually non-functional. Like other government offices-where appointees were named by the various factions in a power-sharing arrangement-the staff was highly factionalized, and not necessarily qualified. Moreover, little or no logistical or financial support was given to the approximately 200 members of the LRRRC staff. When Human Rights Watch/Africa met with the LRRRC, its staff members had not been paid salaries for four months and were sitting in virtual darkness because of the lack of funds to pay for the electricity generator fuel.

It is clear that this body needs to be revitalized and given more qualified staff, training, and financial assistance. At the moment, the role of the LRRRC is indeterminate. International agencies are not clear how best to coordinate their efforts with the LRRRC, and question whether LRRRC is a national policy-making body or an implementing agency that will work in the field. The government needs to clarify the direction and vision of the LRRRC. Additionally, the government needs to recognize that this commission will be one of the most important government agencies in the coming year. Accordingly, the LRRRC should be given the authority and ability to take responsibility for creating a national reintegration and repatriation plan in conjunction with UNHCR. Repatriation will require more than taking people home in trucks. The LRRRC will need to create incentives to bring people home by rebuilding infrastructure and restarting community institutions, such as schools and hospitals. The LRRRC should include a unit that will monitor, report and advocate with regard to issues of protection to ensure that returnees are not harassed on the basis of ethnicity or political alliance and that persons who return to find their homes occupied are able to regain ownership.

7 One June 1997 interagency study roughly estimated the numbers of anticipated returnees as follows:

County Internally Displaced Refugees Total

to return to return

Bomi 40,000 3,000 43,000

Bong 17,000 45,000 62,000

Cape Mount 20,000 3,000 23,000

Grand Bassa 3,000 5,000 8,000

Grand Gedeh 0 60,000 60,000

Grand Kru 5,000 5,000 10,000

Lofa 30,000 125,000 155,000

Margibi 0 20,000 20,000

Maryland 5,000 60,000 65,000

Montserrado 0 60,000 60,000

Nimba 6,000 135,000 141,000

Rivercess 10,000 2,000 12,000

Sinoe 15,000 2,000 17,000

Interagency Populations Group Meeting, "Estimation of Liberia County Populations by Grouping," June 2, 1997 (for discussion purposes only).

8 According to the 1951 Convention and the 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees, a refugee is a person with a "well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, [who] is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country." The 1969 Organization of African Unity (OAU) Convention Governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa has extended this definition to cover those all compelled to leave their country of origin on account of external aggression, occupation, foreign domination, or events seriously disturbing public order. 9 Human Rights Watch/Africa interview, Danane, July 16, 1997. 10 UNHCR, "Plan of Operation: Repatriation and Reintegration of Liberian Refugees," Geneva, May 1997. 11 The heavy burden felt by regional states hosting the refugees became most apparent in April and May 1996 when thousands of Liberians attempted to flee the country by boat. One vessel called Bulk Challenge carried some 2,000 Liberians. The governments of Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast, Nigeria, and Ghana refused to allow the boat to dock, leaving the refugees stranded on the high seas, in an effort to evade their responsibility under international law. Eventually, the government of Ghana accepted the refugees from the Bulk Challenge. 12 Center for Law and Human Rights Education, "The Situation of Liberian Refugees in Ghana, Ivory Coast and Guinea," Monrovia, October 18, 1996. 13 Although there is no internationally agreed-upon definition of the internally displaced, a working definition was established by the U.N. secretary-general in 1992 as: "persons who have been forced to flee their homes suddenly or unexpectedly in large numbers, as a result of armed conflicts, internal strife, systematic violations of human rights or natural or man-made disasters; and who are within the territory of their own country." United Nations Secretary-General, "Analytical Report of the Secretary-General on Internally Displaced Persons," U.N. Doc. E/CN.4/1992/23, 1992. The working definition is currently under review after being criticized for being both too broad and too narrow. 14 These include camps at Bailly's town, Banjor beach, Bensonville, Dixville, Fumba compound, Harrisberg, James town, Kamara town, Kemoh town, Kperkoror, Lenduama town (Voice of America I), Massaquoi town, Memeh town, the unfinished Ministry of Health building, Minty Allison, the Monrovia Vocational Training Center, Moulton Corner, Parker Corner, Pasamol center, Perry town, Plum Core, Rick's Institute, Samukai town, Seigbeh, the former seventy-second army barracks, the former Voice of America compound, Vonzon and Zwana town. 15 Human Rights Watch/Africa interview, Ganta, July 24, 1997. 16 Republic of Liberia, "An Act to Make Provisions for Refugees and to Establish the Liberia Refugee, Repatriation and Resettlement Commission," approved November 1, 1993, published January 19, 1994, Section 5. 17 In July 1991, the legislature of the Liberia National Transitional Government passed "An Act to Establish a National Commission on Repatriation and Resettlement" in order to assign a government body responsibility for the repatriation and resettlement of internally and externally displaced Liberians. LRRRC, "The Provisions of the Liberian Refugee Act and the Role of the Liberia Refugee Repatriation and Resettlement Commission," (undated).