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Liberia: UNHCR welcomes arrival of first peace-keepers

Briefing notes

Liberia: UNHCR welcomes arrival of first peace-keepers

5 August 2003

UNHCR welcomes the arrival of the first international peace-keepers in Liberia, in the hope that the deployment will stabilise the security situation on the ground and enable aid agencies to resume helping hundreds of thousands of people uprooted by the conflict. UNHCR is making preparations to return to Liberia with international staff and humanitarian aid.

In Freetown, Sierra Leone, the M.V. Overbeck is being loaded with trucks, light vehicles, fuel, blankets, mattresses and other aid. As soon as the green light is given by the UN security team, the ship will travel to Monrovia with UNHCR emergency staff and supplies on board. It will subsequently return to Freetown, bringing to safety 300 Sierra Leonean refugees who had signed up for return but were unable to travel as the sealift had to be suspended because of the fighting.

Tonight, another boat, chartered by the World Food Programme (WFP), will be leaving from Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire, with WFP, Oxfam and UNHCR staff and supplies.

Meanwhile, the humanitarian situation in Monrovia is continuing to deteriorate, with food and clean water becoming ever more scarce. The medical facilities are overstretched. Despite the most difficult and unsafe circumstances, our national staff are trying to help. We have put a truck at the disposal of the NGO Merlin to distribute the little food that is still available. Two UNHCR ambulances are being used by the local NGO Merci to help the victims of the recent fighting.

UNHCR's compound in Monrovia continues to shelter over 900 refugees and displaced people. Only during lulls in the fighting the scared people dare to venture out.

In Côte d'Ivoire, refugees from Liberia continue to arrive daily in the south-western part of the country. They cross the border river in little boats which can easily capsize. Some have reportedly drowned while crossing the river in places where the current is particularly strong. UNHCR estimates that up to 40,000 Liberian refugees have arrived in Côte d'Ivoire since May. Some of them have stayed close to the border, but many have moved inland.