The choice of implementing partners
24 May 2002
The internally displaced of Liberia's war are in a difficult position. As they are not refugees they do not have the same rights as a refugee. But they have fled the same war for the same reasons as the refugees, they just never crossed an international border. This means that they remain primarily under the "protection" of their own government. "It is true that a refugee camp closely resembles a camp for the displaced. In both instances, people have fled their homes and require material assistance including shelter, food, and access to health care. These similarities may have given the false impression that the operational response for refugees and displaced could be the same. The resemblance sadly stops at material needs and assistance ... Displaced people remain within their country, under the control and laws of their national authorities, and at the mercy of the threats and violence that may be the very reason for their flight." Most UN agencies working with populations affected by conflict (UNHCR, WFP, OCHA) work through implementing partners. For agencies such as OCHA, these partners, often local NGOs, actually implement most of their work. For the WFP this includes distribution of food aid in the camps, for UNHCR it is registration of refugees, for OCHA it is the care of the displaced people. This tendency to rely increasingly on implementing partners with limited control opens the situation to numerous problems, especially concerning the very pressing issues of protection and the delivery of assistance. This has raised the issue of the choice of operational partners, and concern for the quality and integrity of these UN operations. In Liberia, where open conflict is taking place and many of the displaced are fleeing all armed elements of this conflict, the operational partner and counterpart of OCHA to protect and assist the IDPs is the Liberian Refugee, Repatriation, Resettlement Commission (LRRRC). The LRRRC is a government agency that was started with the support of UNHCR in 1993. At that time there was no international body or UN agency mandated to care for IDPs, and LRRRC was created to fill this gap. Since then, the Secretary General of the UN has given OCHA this responsibility. One major role of LRRRC is choosing the location of camp sites and the registration of the IDPs. These registration figures are the official UN figures, and therefore dictate how much material assistance is given, and where. It is not a surprise that this government commission exaggerates figures and decides on new sites (quite a few near military bases) not according to the needs of the populations, but rather on the inflated figures. At the end of April, LRRRC and OCHA reported that there were 23,718 people in the camps close to Monrovia (VOA, Jartondo, Blamacee, etc.). MSF, which has been running mobile clinics in these camps, estimates that the figure is closer to 11,000. This can be seen when walking through the new sites. Of the shelters that are already constructed, only about 1/3 are occupied. This causes duplication of unnecessary work, and also opens up the possibility of forced displacement if the government feels certain groups need to be "re-grouped" and monitored. "Despite the fact that the Liberian Refugee, Repatriation, Resettlement Commission (LRRRC) is the ad hoc governmental agency responsible for IDPs, members of staff have reportedly facilitated Liberian security forces access to IDP camps which resulted in arbitrary mass arrests of suspected 'dissidents'. There were reports that high-ranking members of the LRRRC actually pointed out individuals who were 'supposed dissident collaborators' to the Liberian security forces resulting in their arrest and harassment. On 23 and 24 February 2002, ATU and SOD (Special Operation Division) forces reportedly entered several IDP camps near Monrovia and arrested men for 'dissident activity'. On 23 February the ATU were facilitated access to both the VOA and Zuana Town IDP camps where five people were reportedly arrested and taken away. The next evening, on 24 February, three pick-up trucks filled with ATU and SOD officers entered the VOA IDP Camp at midnight and arrested 45 young men. When family members protested the following day, all were released after payment of (US$4 - $30.00) for each person to the ATU." Since the beginning of March 2002, around 4,000 new displaced persons arrived at Sinje camp (Great Cape Mount County), the site of a pre-existing refugee camp near the border with Sierra Leone. This camp was divided into two section; Sinje I and Sinje II. The refugees from both of these camps have been going back to Sierra Leone with UNHCR for several months, leaving behind their empty huts. So when the new displaced arrived, they began to occupy some of the empty shelters. This was logical as all of the services needed were already present in this camp; clinic, water, shelter, toilets. Everything. However, LRRRC in concert with UNHCR (their main donor) decided that the IDPs should be moved to another site. This makes no sense except to create duplicate services and to control humanitarian supplies. Those agencies, which are expected now to create those duplicate services (after all, these people will need food, water, shelter), were not consulted at all about this decision. Some even found about it when it was announced in the Liberian Senate. According to the implementing partner arrangement, LRRRC should choose the site and the camp agency to manage it, conduct the registration and ensure the protection of the people.