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Nigeria: second repatriation airlift for Sierra Leoneans

Briefing Notes, 3 September 2002

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Ron Redmond to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 3 September 2002, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

The second repatriation airlift for Sierra Leoneans returning home from Nigeria is expected to take place tomorrow (Wednesday), with 63 refugees on board.

As with the first movement last week, the first leg of the return journey is scheduled to start today when about 50 refugees travel by bus to Lagos from Oru camp, a two-hour drive. They will stay overnight at the Hajj camp used by pilgrims departing to Mecca near Lagos airport. They will undergo customs formalities at the camp and be joined by about 15 urban refugees who had been residing in Lagos itself and who have also asked for UNHCR help to go back home. The second leg of the returnees' journey, the airlift itself, is scheduled on a commercial flight Wednesday morning.

As with last week's flight, the majority of the Sierra Leonean returnees originate from Freetown. This flight will also include some refugees from Port Loko district, north of Freetown, and Tonkolili district, in central Sierra Leone.

In all, Nigeria hosts about 2,000 Sierra Leonean refugees, of whom only 270 have so far requested to go home. With last week's departure, this will bring to 132 the number repatriated so far. Three subsequent flights will return people originating from the east and interior of Sierra Leone, including Bo and Kenema, Makeni and Koidu.

Upon arrival at Lungi international airport near Freetown, the returnees will be welcomed by UNHCR staff and be briefed on reception procedures. Each returnee family will get a reintegration coupon for two months of entitlements. The returnee package includes a food ration provided by WFP consisting of 18 kg of cereals, 1.5 litres of oil and 7.5 kg of pulses. Three blankets and three sleeping mats as well as soap, a jerry can, one kitchen set, a plastic sheet and a lantern are also included in the reintegration kit.

Some 170,000 Sierra Leoneans have returned home from throughout West Africa since Sept. 2000.

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Sierra Leone: Last Return Convoy from Liberia

On July 21, 2004, the final UNHCR convoy from Liberia crossed over the Mano River bridge into Sierra Leone with 286 returnees. This convoy included the last of some 280,000 refugees returning home after Sierra Leone's brutal 10-year civil war which ended in 2000. Overall, since repatriation began in 2001, UNHCR has helped some 178,000 refugees return home, with a further 92,000 returning spontaneously, without transport assistance from UNHCR.

UNHCR provided returnees with food rations and various non-food items, including jerry cans, blankets, sleeping mats, soap and agricultural tools in order to help them establish their new lives in communities of origin. To promote integration of newly arrived returnees, UNHCR has implemented some 1,000 community empowerment projects nationwide. Programmes include the building and rehabilitation of schools, clinics, water and sanitation facilities, as well as micro-credit schemes and skills training.

UNHCR and its partners, alongside the UN country team and the government, will continue to assist the reintegration of returnees through the end of 2005.

Sierra Leone: Last Return Convoy from Liberia

Nigeria: The Casualties of Conflict

One year after the Nigerian government declared a state of emergency in the northern states of Adamawa, Borno and Yobe, violence continues to displace people within Nigeria and to neighbouring Cameroon, Chad and Niger, including some 22,000 Nigerian refugees. Civilians trapped at home face recurrent attacks by insurgents, with a series of kidnappings and killings culminating in mid-April this year in the abduction of more than 200 girls from a school in Chibok, Borno.

UNHCR's Hélène Caux recently travelled to the region to meet with some of the 250,000 internally displaced, including students caught up in the violence. Those she spoke to told her about their fears, and the atrocities and suffering they had endured or witnessed. People spoke about their homes and fields being destroyed, grenade attacks on markets, the killing of friends and relatives, and arbitrary arrests. Uniting them is an overwhelming sense of terror. Caux found it a challenge to photograph people who live in constant fear of being attacked. "It was this delicate balance to try to achieve between featuring them, communicating their stories and protecting them," she said.

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