Funding crunch threatens return of 64,000 IDPs before polls

Funding shortages could delay the resettlement of around 64,000 Liberians, who remain displaced more than two years after the end of the civil war, many of whom are keen to return home ahead of October elections, government and UN officials said on Wednesday.

"These are IDPs (internally displaced persons) who are residing in spontaneous settlements," Philip Dwuye, the head of the Liberia Refugees, Repatriation and Resettlement Commission told IRIN. "The government along with its international partners is searching for means of securing funding to resettle them."

Dwuye put the cost of helping these IDPs home at US $9.6 million. The money would be used to provide returnees with basic items and transport.

In a recent humanitarian update, the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) warned that a funding crunch lay around the corner.

"64,000 IDPs who are not covered by the current planning figures would have to wait until resources are identified. This would effectively bring the (return) process to a halt," the UNMIL briefing note said.

The out-going UN humanitarian co-ordinator for Liberia, Abou Moussa, told reporters last week that funding was being sought from the US government.

"The programme is on course and they will soon be resettled," Moussa said.

As the UN itself admits, the pressure from the remaining IDPs to be helped home continues to mount. Some of the ramshackle structures in which they are currently living have been damaged by the prolonged and heavy rains.

"In addition, there is also need to return most of the IDPs before the October 11 ballot," the UNMIL briefing note said.

The National Elections Commission has said that IDPs make up around five percent of the 1.35 million registered voters, and almost three-quarters of the registered IDP voters have chosen to cast their ballot in their county of origin so they can choose their local leaders.

That means they have to get back by polling day.

According to the latest UNMIL figures, just over 207,000 IDPs have been assisted to return home out of 314,000.

Last week, the Norwegian Refugee Council, an international aid agency working in Liberia, said they were worried that potential voters could find themselves unable to cast their ballot.

"It is likely that many (remaining IDPs) may not be able to return in time, raising concerns that they may be disenfranchised," the group said.

The IDPs themselves are also voicing their unhappiness.

Acquie Mulbah, an IDP leader at Mount Barclay Camp, one of the largest camps on the outskirts of the capital, Monrovia, said his neighbours were losing interest in the on-going election campaign, because they were stuck in the camps.

"IDPs are united on the issue of being resettled first, before the elections," he told IRIN. "We are all downhearted because the process is moving slowly and many of us who want to be resettled have not been assisted to do so."

On Tuesday, the Liberia Rural Dwellers Initiative, which says it represents about 150,000 IDPs, presented a statement to Liberia's parliament, foreign embassies and international organisations saying they would boycott the October elections if they are not resettled.

"We are not happy over the way the resettlement programme is being handled. The political situation has overshadowed our return process and we said strongly in our statement that we will not participate in the elections and we will prevent all political parties and candidates from campaigning in our camps," the group's spokesman, Seymour Morris, explained.