Cablegate: The Rocky Road to Unhcr's June 30 Return Deadline

DE RUEHAB #0600/01 1580935
R 070935Z JUN 07





E.O. 12958: N/A

B. STATE 38825


1. (U) Summary: The Abijan-based Refugee Coordinator for
West Africa (RefCoord), traveled by road from Monrovia to
Abidjan from May 1 to May 17. RefCoord passed through
Gbarnga, Voinjama, Macenta, Nzerekore, Danane,
Duekoue/Guiglo, and Tabou during the trip. RefCoord visited
a number of villages where PRM-funded partners are working
and met refugee groups from several camps (Kuankan, Laine,
Nicla) and towns (Danane, Tabou) to assess preparations for
the conclusion of UNHCR's assisted return program on June 30.
More than 97,000 Liberian refugees have returned with UNHCR
assistance since November 2004 and UNHCR has communicated a
clear message on the June 30 return deadline to Liberian
refugee communities RefCoord visited. End Summary.

2. (U) The Abijan-based Refugee Coordinator for West Africa
(RefCoord), traveled by road from Monrovia to Abidjan from
May 1 to May 17. RefCoord passed through Gbarnga, Voinjama,
Macenta, Nzerekore, Danane, Duekoue/Guiglo, and Tabou during
the trip. RefCoord visited a number of villages where
PRM-funded partners are working and met refugee groups from
several camps (Kuankan, Laine, Nicla) and towns (Danane,
Tabou) to assess preparations for the conclusion of UNHCR's
assisted return program on June 30. This was the first time
RefCoord was able to conduct such a trip by road in almost
two years. (Note: Please see ref. C for a report on Sierra
Leone. End note.)


3. (U) According to UNHCR's official statistics, UNHCR has
assisted 10,930 Liberian refugees to return so far in 2007
(as of April 27). The majority of returning refugees in 2007
are from Sierra Leone (5,796) and Guinea (3,195). Overall,
the total number of Liberian refugees who have returned with
UNHCR's assistance since November 2004 is now over 97,000.
Fifty percent of returnees are from Guinea (48,366), followed
by Sierra Leone (23,960), Cote d'Ivoire (18,239), Ghana
(5,117), and Nigeria (2,049). UNHCR reports a total of
86,391 Liberian refugees still remain in countries of asylum,
with the largest population in Ghana (24,058), followed by
Cote d'Ivoire (23,010), Sierra Leone (16,994), Guinea
(15,714), and Nigeria (4,825). These numbers continue to
decrease, however, particularly from Sierra Leone and Guinea,
as organized and spontaneous return movements continue.
(Note: some of the figures on remaining caseload are derived
using UNHCR's estimates of "spontaneous" returns. These
estimates have not been verified in all cases and may be
inaccurate. End note.)


4. (U) In Liberia, RefCoord visited Bong and Lofa Counties,
including the towns and villages of Gbarnga, Foequelleh,
Bellemu, Garmue, Gbarnga-Siaquelleh, Gbalatuah, Fissebu,
Voinjama, Kolahun, and Foya. David Karp, UNHCR Gbarnga Head
of Office, said he was prioritizing remote villages for
assistance in the coming year in Bong County. For example,
UNHCR will support a school rehabilitation and agricultural
development project in Gbarnga-Siaquelleh (Panta District), a
village just minutes from the Guinea border. Although
overall return numbers to Bong County are relatively low
(5,153) when compared to the overall numbers, some 28% of all
returns to Bong County have been to villages in this
District, and 32% of those returns have come in 2007 alone,
the highest percent for any year since 2004. The American
Refugee Committee (ARC) is working with a number of villages
in this region to establish Savings and Loan Clubs, many of
which are already generating significant revenue from club
members. In the Zota District, on the road to Lofa County,
RefCoord met several school teachers who had worked with the
International Rescue Committee (IRC) in Guinea, specifically
from Laine Camp. RefCoord later read the names of these
teachers out to surprised refugees still living in Laine Camp
who immediately recognized the names of their friends and
former colleagues.

5. (U) UNHCR has assisted more than 57,000 Liberians to

ABIDJAN 00000600 002 OF 004

return to Lofa County. This figure represents 59% of all
official return movements. PRM funds several NGOs in upper
and lower Lofa County, including ARC, IRC, the Christian
Children's Fund (CCF), the International Medical Corps (IMC),
and the Center for Victims of Torture (CVT). RefCoord noted
significant and continued changes in Lofa County (ref. A).
Workers in Voinjama and Kolahun were digging permanent
drainage ditches in the town centers, lining them with cement
blocks for the first time in years; stacks of fresh lumber
were seen lying next to the road, ready to be used in local
construction projects; and road crews were putting the
finishing touches on the tremendously improved Voinjama to
Foya road (travel time has been cut by several hours on this
road over the last two years). RefCoord met ARC staff in
Voinjama who had returned from refugee camps in Guinea within
the last year and almost all of the employees working with
CVT are returnees from Sierra Leone and Guinea. In contrast
to these positive signs, IRC reported an increase in the
number of malnutrition and TB cases at their referral clinic
in Kolahun. Most international and non-governmental
organizations (NGOs) RefCoord spoke to agreed the health care
sector still needed much attention and that access to more
remote villages off the main roads is still an area of


6. (SBU) RefCoord crossed into Guinea with UNHCR on May 11
to visit the Kuankan and Laine refugee camps. Soldiers in
the town of Macenta, an important crossroads just after
entering Guinea from Liberia, had started a protest early
that morning over non-payment of salaries and were walking
the streets with their weapons. Businesses in Macenta town
were closed but some locals continued to go about their daily
chores, apparently unconcerned by the occasional, random
gunfire from the protesting soldiers. Several soldiers
stopped the UNHCR vehicle RefCoord was traveling in, looking
for some change "to buy some cigarettes." Local shops in
Nzerekore were also closed, ostensibly to prevent soldiers
from looting their goods as had happened in protests earlier
that same month.

7. (SBU) In the refugee camps, RefCoord met with IRC staff
(all Liberian refugees) working in the IRC schools and on
IRC's child protection committees. RefCoord was surprised by
the frank and open discussions with refugees who admitted
that they, and many others in the camps, traveled regularly
back and forth to Liberia. They revealed that at least one
NGO had recently submitted a list of 67 newly "abandoned"
children in the camp that was made up of young men and women
over the age of 18. They explained that many of those on the
list were in fact former IRC clients who lied to this NGO
about their age. They also said the Refugee Committee in
Laine Camp had recently submitted the names of three
"abandoned" children to UNHCR. The IRC staff said that after
some investigation they found the children were actually in
the camps with their mothers who had "abandoned" them hoping
to obtain additional food rations.

8. (SBU) Cesar Ortega, UNHCR Voinjama, traveled with
RefCoord to Kuankan Camp. He said that most of the refugees
participating in our larger group discussion that morning had
only recently been in Voinjama within the last couple of
weeks, including the Refugee Committee Chairwoman, as well as
many of those he saw receiving food distributions. Although
current UNHCR figures report approximately 6,000 Liberian
refugees in each of the two remaining camps, Ortega believes
the number of legitimate refugees staying in these two camps
to be approximately half that number. Salif Kagni, Head of
Office for UNHCR Nzerekore, confirmed that recent head counts
revealed the numbers are indeed lower than their official

9. (U) Some of the refugees RefCoord spoke to said they
intended to return after May 24, when the schools closed.
Several teachers said they are seriously considering the
UNHCR-IRC-Ministry of Education package to add qualified
teachers to the Ministry payroll in Liberia, and most
refugees still hold out hope the U.S. will offer another
group resettlement for Liberian refugees. Other refugees are
waiting for their P-3, family reunion cases to be processed,
and a large number of Liberians remaining in the camps are
physically handicapped and will require closer attention from
UNHCR. RefCoord also visited with IRC the villages of

ABIDJAN 00000600 003 OF 004

Simkoly, Kerezaghaye, Loula, and Kermanda, all located
outside the two refugee camps. RefCoord and IRC officials
were struck by the signs of widespread malnutrition among
many children in these villages.


10. (SBU) The worst roads during this trip were located
between the Guinea/Cote d'Ivoire border and Danane, a town
located just north of the former Zone of Confidence (ZOC) in
Cote d'Ivoire. The border point on the Ivoirian side is
still manned by oddly dressed and young looking Forces
Nouvelles (FN) soldiers. The FN provided a security escort
that accompanied us on the two hour, fifty kilometer dirt
road to Danane and helped wave us through the various FN
checkpoints. The road between Man and Duekoue is still
monitored by UNOCI forces, although security escorts are no
longer provided. A reported up-tick in violence in April
around the town of Bangolo, more or less halfway between Man
and Duekoue in the former ZOC, forced ONUCI to provide an
armed escort for all travelers between these two points for
several weeks. However, Auguste Kpognon, Country Director
for CARE, said it appears that incidents between Man and
Duekoue have actually decreased now that the joint FN and
FANCI (regular Ivoirian military) patrols have started as
called for under the Ouagadougou Peace Agreement.

11. (U) RefCoord met Liberian refugee groups in Danane,
Guiglo, and Tabou. Refugees in Danane and Guiglo asked
questions as to why they had not been resettled to the U.S.
In Guiglo they were very concerned about the future status of
the Nicla refugee camp and what sort of services can be
expected after June 30. Questions such as property rights
and legal documentation for refugees who remain in Cote
d'Ivoire after June 30 were raised several times. In Tabou
many of the Liberians on the refugee committee asked specific
questions about return assistance, such as how many kilos and
what type of goods they could bring with them to Liberia if
they returned now. Many of the Liberians in Danane spoke
comfortably in French and claimed to have their own small
businesses or work in local plantations.

--------------------------------------------- --

12. (U) RefCoord talked to refugees and NGO staff in all
locations to see how well informed they were of the June 30
deadline and if they understood the status of the U.S.
resettlement program for Liberian refugees. Although
RefCoord did not see the U.S. statement in all locations
(ref. B), it was clear that almost everyone had been well
informed that UNHCR's return and reintegration assistance in
Liberia will end on June 30 and that the U.S. is only
resettling P-3, family reunion cases. Most refugees prefaced
their requests for renewed resettlement with statements
indicating they are aware of the already expired September
30, 2006, deadline to submit P-3 petitions, and many even
asked RefCoord to encourage other countries, such as Canada
and Australia, to consider resettling Liberian refugees now
that the U.S. program is over.

13. (U) In Cote d'Ivoire UNHCR had posted the OPE-provided
P-3 lists in all locations RefCoord visited and UNHCR had
used the U.S. statement to prepare specific responses to the
questions posed on the post-June 30 situation. When asking
questions, refugees referred to recent missions from the
Ivoirian refugee office, SAARA, on their legal rights in Cote
d'Ivoire as well as a recent information mission organized by
UNHCR, SAARA, and the Liberian Ambassador to Cote d'Ivoire.
Refugees sought clarification of specific points from these
missions that revealed their close attention to the different
messages each delegation had delivered. RefCoord spoke to
one Liberian refugee in Tabou town and asked him if he was
aware of the June 30 deadline. He replied that he is going
to stay in Cote d'Ivoire after June 30, that he will request
his permanent refugee card from UNHCR as explained during a
recent information discussion with the Liberian Ambassador,
and pointed to his wood shop across the street where he said
he plans to continue working.


14. (SBU) The areas RefCoord visited on this trip encompass

ABIDJAN 00000600 004 OF 004

the largest concentration of Liberian refugee returnees as
well as the largest number of Liberian refugees still
officially registered outside Liberia. In Liberia,
PRM-funded NGOs and UNHCR are playing a key role in ensuring
that return is sustainable. PRM's partners are rightly
concerned that the transition from relief to development
remains unclear, but the signs of progress and level of
refugee repatriation in the last two years is impressive. At
the same time, IRC's data on malnutrition in upper Lofa
County highlight that real needs are still there. Outside
Liberia, at least in Guinea and Cote d'Ivoire, UNHCR has
clearly communicated information on the June 30 deadline to
all refugee populations RefCoord visited. Refugees have also
received information from the USG statement on repatriation
and the P-3 family reunion program, either directly from
reading the notice or indirectly from friends. The real
challenge for UNHCR lies outside Liberia. UNHCR will have to
promote local integration in an uneasy political environment
in some host countries. Some refugees still face a long
review process for their P-3 petitions and will likely remain
outside Liberia during that time. And there is the obvious
issue of existing needs within the local, non-refugee
communities, whose well-being also needs to be considered.
All of these issues will influence UNHCR's programming for
the rest of 2007 and into 2008.

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