More than 600 Sierra Leonean refugees have so far been evacuated by ship from Monrovia, Liberia, to Freetown, Sierra Leone in a continuing UNHCR operation aimed at helping thousands return to their homeland.
Meanwhile, UNHCR and it partners in Monrovia are still struggling to assist tens of thousands of refugees and displaced people in and around the war - torn capital. Following weeks of looting, our operations are hampered by a shortage of vehicles - they were stolen - and a lack of fuel. Nevertheless, our national staff and NGO partners are doing their best to help people scattered throughout the Monrovia area, focusing particularly on life - saving activities. Medical clinics have been set up in various locations and an ambulance service is being provided for critical cases. UNHCR staff are also focusing on continuing registration of those wanting to be evacuated in our seaborne operation. The MV Overbeck is able to make the return trip about every four days, carrying between 300 and 350 Sierra Leonean refugees each voyage.
According to evacuees interviewed by UNHCR staff in Freetown yesterday, most of the 15,000 Sierra Leonean refugees in Liberia want to leave the country. After their camps were caught up in the recent fighting, many have been trying to reach the UNHCR office to be registered for evacuation as soon as possible. Several said they were tired of being repeatedly displaced in the Liberian fighting.
Although it remains largely deserted, they said a few refugees were going to the sprawling VOA camp on the outskirts of Monrovia to retrieve their belongings. Some of the returnees said they had witnessed various abuses, including rape, by soldiers. They also said that some Sierra Leoneans were unable to leave because they had become separated from their children and were trying to find them.