Liberia’s biggest refugee camp opens
Zwedru, 1 September, 2011 - The first day of September marked a new beginning for hundreds of Ivorian refugees as they relocated from host communities to begin life in six refugee camps.
The day also marked the official opening of Liberia’s newest camp commonly called PTP camp as it is established at the former Prime Timber Production company compound in Grand Gedeh County where some disused structures have been rehabilitated by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). The camp, which has a planned capacity of 27,000, received its maiden convoy of 106 refugees who drove into the camp singing and cheering.
“On behalf of the High Commissioner, we welcome you to PTP camp. You are here because you expressed your desire to be here. The convoy movement today is symbolic. More refugees have already indicated their interest to relocate to this camp,” remarked UNHCR’s Andrew Mbogori, assuring the refugees that the Government of Liberia, UNHCR and partners will continue to provide assistance to them. About 1,200 refugees are expected to be relocated weekly to the new camp as of 6 September and will eventually become Liberia’s biggest refugee camp.
The opening of PTP camp is part of a simultaneous operation as UNHCR and partners commenced accelerated relocation from Liberia’s border counties of Grand Gedeh, Nimba, River Gee and Maryland into camps away from the border. The UNHCR in collaboration with the Government of Liberia has already established five refugee camps with a current total population of 30,000 refugees while PTP is the sixth and last Ivorian refugee camp in Liberia.
Thanking donors for their support, Mbogori, who is the head of the UNHCR sub-office, said the movement to PTP and other camps is part of the “Solutions approach to the Ivorian refugee situation in Liberia” which is in line with the new policy of the Government of Liberia that refugees should relocate from the border. “We are very delighted that we are responding to the expressed desire of refugees themselves to relocate, dozens of whom have been directly walking into camps,” said Mbogori.
Generally, refugees say they are relocating because they do not want to return home yet and will be assured of better services and facilities such as regular monthly food supply, medical care, water and sanitation, as well as privacy as they will have family shelters in the camps. “I have decided to relocate to the camp because I can get better services there as well as privacy,” said Tai, a 42-year-old English teacher from Guiglo, adding that his car was stolen during the Ivorian crisis, one of his children killed and his house burnt. “I am not returning to Côte d’Ivoire soon,” added the father of three.
Some days ago, the governments of Liberia, Côte d’Ivoire and UNHCR signed a tripartite agreement for the voluntary repatriation of Ivorian refugees but UNHCR and the Liberia Refugee Repatriation and Resettlement Commission (LRRRC) officials say they are not promoting returns.
Among challenges confronting humanitarians such as pouring seasonal rains with vehicles regularly getting stuck on muddy roads, LRRRC, UNHCR and partner UN agencies such as WFP, UNICEF, FAO , UNFPA as well as NGOs welcome the movement of refugees into camps. “When refugees are in camps, it makes our work easier than when they are spread out in several communities,” noted Dr. Karaam Jeet Sigh of MSF- Holland.
Since last November, more than 173,600 Ivorians are estimated to have crossed over into Liberia. Added to the newly opened PTP camp, the others include Bahn in Nimba County; Little Wlebo in Maryland County while Solo, Dougee and Ziah are in Grand Gedeh County. The refugees are currently residing in about 300 communities along the border but some 50,000 more are expected to be relocated to camps by the end of this year.