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Liberia: UNHCR gradually re-establishing presence

Briefing notes

Liberia: UNHCR gradually re-establishing presence

29 April 2003

UNHCR is gradually re-establishing presence in the remote areas of Liberia, close to the border with Côte d'Ivoire, where tens of thousands of people had been cut off from humanitarian aid for two months. Over the past two weeks the security situation in the area has somewhat improved, allowing some aid workers to go back for the first time since February 28 when an attack in the uprooted thousands of civilians and left three humanitarian workers dead.

Last Thursday, UNHCR and WFP [World Food Programme] staff travelled to Saclepea, Nimba County, to distribute food in the transit camp hosting 777 Ivorian refugees and 34 West Africans migrant workers who fled the conflict in Côte d'Ivoire. The team stayed in Saclepea for three days, before returning to Monrovia on Sunday, after hearing about renewed fighting in the neighbouring town of Tappita. During an earlier mission on Easter Monday, UNHCR also learned that refugees continued to arrive from Côte d'Ivoire but could not verify the reports independently.

Also last week, a UNHCR security official was sent to Harper, a coastal town in south-eastern Mariland County, to review the possibility of resuming assistance there. UNHCR and WFP are now operating two flights per week to Harper and UNHCR Senior Emergency co-ordinator flew there yesterday to spend a week assessing the situation. UNHCR will also use a WFP-chartered boat to send some non-food items, light vehicles and fuel for the refugee operations there. The boat is due to leave today.

We hope that refugees and other people displaced by the fighting in the area will now attempt to reach Harper as soon as they hear that aid is available there.

Close to 100,000 people - a mix of Ivorians, Liberians and third country nationals - have fled into Liberia since the conflict spread to western Côte d'Ivoire in mid-November of last year.