Open Letter to UN Security Council: Refugees’ Rights to Returning Home Must Be Ensured

Dear Mr. Secretary General and Members of the Security Council:

I present my compliments of the holiday season and best wishes for the New Year. I write to thank the United Nations for its peacekeeping mission in Liberia that has brought about peace and much-needed security.

The purpose of this letter is to respectfully request that you make the right of all refugees forced into exile to return home a requirement for all future United Nations’ peacekeeping and post-conflict assistance programs worldwide. For refugees who are unable or unwilling to return, there needs to be reasonable compensation from the government that forced them into exile.

With the Syrian refugee crisis still not fully resolved and potential conflicts simmering in other parts of the world, it’s the United Nations, not refugees, who must stand up for the rights of all refugees, including the right to return home.

Presently, the right to return is not seriously considered as a critical part of UN peace mission and post-conflict assistance. Liberia is a prime example. This matter of refugees’ return should no longer be left to vulnerable refugees to sort out on their own.

As you may recall, the first formal move toward the recognition of a right of return was in the UN General Assembly Resolution 194 passed on Dec. 11, 1948, which provided, in Article 11, that “refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbors should be permitted to do so at the earliest practicable date, and that compensation should be paid for the property of those choosing not to return and for loss of or damage to property which, under principles of international law or in equity, should be made good by the Governments or authorities responsible.” In the case of Palestinians, the UN General Assembly Resolution 3236, passed Nov. 22 1974, declared the right of return an “inalienable right”.

There is no better place to put this policy into force than the Republic of Liberia, a founding member of the United Nations and a signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Hundreds of thousands of Liberians currently forced into exile are longing to return home. Ironically, the policies of the current Unity Party, led by Nobel Laureate Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has effectively shut the doors for members of the Liberian diaspora forced into exile to freely return to visit their families in Liberia.

This speaks volumes of the priority given to national reconciliation in the Unity Party. While shutting the doors to vulnerable refugees to return, Liberia has opened its doors to over 300 million ECOWAS citizens without visas, with no ties to Liberia, to travel and do business in the country.

Doubtless, the Republic of Liberia was a party to the civil war. The Liberian government and all Liberian rebel factions were responsible for atrocities that resulted in the deaths, dismemberment, and forced exile of thousands of Liberians.

With thousands of aggrieved Liberians scattered worldwide, nothing can accelerate national reconciliation and the healing process better than a family reunion. However, the financial burden of a post-conflict, post-Ebola, and war-ravaged third world country means Liberia is incapable of providing consular services to the Liberians scattered worldwide.

Even where consular services and embassies exist, financial constraints result in inadequate training that manifests itself in incompetent staff and poor customer service, thus driving a wedge between the Liberian Diaspora and their families at home. As such, genuine reconciliation between Liberians is not happening.

People need to come together and start conversations about peace. That is why the Liberian government needs to prioritize national reconciliation, starting with encouraging families to come together.

An easy way to do this is to grant visa waivers to all Liberian exiles returning to visit their families. If Liberia grants visa waivers to over 300 million ECOWAS citizens such as Nigerians and Ghanaian, what is the justification for denial of visas to tens of thousands of Liberians forced into exile by the Liberian Government and Rebel atrocities who desire to return to promote healing and accelerate national reconciliation?

Even if they are naturalized citizens like the ECOWAS citizens, these are natives of Liberia returning for national reconciliation, family reunion and economic vitality. Those who currently enjoy visa waivers in Liberia come only to make money and have no family ties to Liberia

Begin in Liberia and you will open the doors for Syrian Refugees to eventually return home.

I thank you for your kind consideration of this matter.

Featured photo courtesy of Keith Burns

A pastor and human rights activist, Torli was instrumental in lobbying with US congressmen and policymakers to increase the quota of refugees from Africa being allowed into the US. He has also worked tirelessly in the New England region and beyond to champion the rights of refugees and immigrants. His organization, Universal Human Rights International, worked with thousands of immigrants from 38 different countries over the span of 20 years. He has been honored by the National Peace Corps Association and the Massachusetts Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild.

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