Liberia: Repatriation of Sierra Leoneans resumes
UNHCR on Wednesday resumed the repatriation of Sierra Leonean refugees from Liberia to Sierra Leone by airlifting 10 families into Freetown's Lungi international airport on Wednesday. This was the first organised return movement since a peace agreement was signed on August 18 between the Liberian government and two rebel movements.
Wednesday's returnees had been living in camps around the Liberian capital, Monrovia. Arriving at the airport in Freetown, they were briefed by UNHCR and its government counterpart, the National Commission for Social Action, on what to do for the rest of their journey home. Other non-governmental organisations like the Red Cross and Save the Children UK were present to provide assistance like food and water.
The returnees also received a repatriation package with relief items, a transport allowance of about $9 and a four-month food ration before leaving for their home areas in Bo, Kailahun, Pujehun and Kenema districts on convoys organised by UNHCR and its German partner agency, GTZ. UNHCR is working with the World Food Programme to organise twice-weekly flights for up to 40 Sierra Leonean refugees in Liberia per week.
There are still some 14,000 Sierra Leonean refugees living in Liberia's camps. Since 2001, close to 66,300 refugees have gone back to Sierra Leone from Liberia with UNHCR assistance. This year, despite the recurring fighting, the agency has helped more than 4,000 Sierra Leonean refugees to return home by sea and air.
UNHCR is also exploring the possibility of overland repatriation through Pujehun district. Various assessment missions have been conducted from Monrovia to the border area with Sierra Leone. Details will be discussed next week between the UNHCR's offices in Freetown and Monrovia.
Meanwhile UNHCR staff are trying to look into restoring our field presence beyond Monrovia. A team of field and security officers left yesterday (Thursday) on a 5-day mission for Zwedru and Harper. They spent the night in Zwedru yesterday and are still negotiating with the MODEL rebels who had been occupying our office premises but now are apparently willing to vacate them. Even though the timing of UNHCR's permanent return to Zwedru is unclear, the premises must be secured quickly to prevent looting.
Another inter-agency mission is leaving today to Bong, Nimba and Lofa County to look at security conditions there. The team will try to reach Gbarnga, Zorzor, Ganta and Saclepea by road during this 2-day mission.