Several Displaced Camps In Liberia Take Shape

By Josephus Moses Gray
Monrovia, Liberia

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

March 29, 2004

Last week, what came to be known as the Perry Town Way Station is gradually taking shape, becoming another epitome of how much work is to be done in order to restore normalcy to war-ravaged Liberia. Thanks to UNHCR and its local implementing partner, the Concerned Christian Community (CCC) - more than 4,000 Liberians who were desperate seekers of a place to lay their heads less than two weeks ago are now regaining hopes and reading meanings into their own lives again.

The trek back home is not yet over and may not be over for few more weeks: many more are barely making it across the Sierra Leone border, coming home.

It all began late last month when more than 3,000 Liberians who had sought refuge in the Tiamah and Gedimah refugee camps in neighboring Sierra Leone began swarming the border town of Bo in a desperate effort to come back home, unannounced, the relief community was caught with nothing less than their pants down.

That was between February 24 and 25 when the first load of 954 families, representing more than 3,153 arrived aboard scores of UNHCR trucks in the Brewerville suburb west of Monrovia.

This gush of humanity started initially with the trickling in of families of twos, fives, and sometimes tens who complained of harassment and unfavorable treatment in the Sierra Leonean refugee camps. The earlier arrivals easily merged into the displaced communities, staying with friends and relatives in the IDP Blamasee, Siegbeh, Perry Camp, Wilson Corner, and Jahtondo IDP camps awaiting shelter allocation.

But the late February rush-in was unsettling and UNHCR and its Montserrado County refugee resettlement project implementer, the Concerned Christian Community (CCC) were quick to put into place a rapid response team which immediately set to work.

The team worked feverishly around the clock to ensure that the mainly haggard, hungry, and hopeless returnees got immediate relief. Then began the frantic work that soon attracts the attention of the humanitarian and diplomatic community.

In less then six hours upon arrival, the returnees began receiving relief packages including water and snacks. While that was going on, the reception halls where the arrivals would rest and refresh were ready.

Meanwhile, carpenters, masons, foremen, water and sanitation crew, and healthcare givers from the Relief and Psychosocial departments of CCC, in that order, were on the dot to ensure that the returnees were sheltered before nightfall. They met the deadline and the requirement, but the number is still growing, standing at more than 4,000 by the end of last week.

At the moment, all 4,000 plus returnees are sheltered in five transit tents with water and sanitation facilities including wells, pit toilets, bathrooms, and dumpsites available and prominent in strategic places. Merlin is providing Medicare, while CCC continues to provide emergency treatment for abused women and girls.

Two weeks ago, CCC completed the screening of 300 women and girls who either suffered violent sexual attacks or were traumatized by the gruesome death of spouses, family members, or neighbors.

Currently, CCC has developed 40 acres of land acquired for the purpose of IDP resettlement and is in advanced stages of completing the first batch of shelters for 2,000 families. It means that in less than a month, each family will be resettled in a two-roomed hut of its own.

That the Brewerville Way Station attracted diplomatic attention has built up hope in the returnees who were on hand, March 5, 2004, to greet the visiting Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs of the United States State Department, Ms. Pamela Bridgewater.

Secretary Bridgewater toured the tents and the surrounding facilities and chatted with officials of CCC, UNHCR, and the representatives of the returnees. During the tour, Mrs. Mariama Z. Brown, Executive Director of CCC acquainted Secretary Bridgewater with efforts and plans aimed at bring smiles to the faces of Liberians unsettled violently by the civil war.

Apparently overwhelmed by what she saw, Secretary Bridgewater promised to take back with her to the State Department the kind impression she gathered firsthand from the returnees resettlement efforts of CCC and UNHCR.

In her entourage were US Embassy officials including the director of communications, Christiana Porche, USAID officials, amongst many others.