Sierra Leone: airlift repatriation from Nigeria to start
UNHCR tomorrow (Wednesday) will start a repatriation airlift of Sierra Leone refugees from Lagos, Nigeria.
A first group of 70 people including six babies is due to travel today in five trucks from Oru camp, about 2 hours drive south-west of Lagos, to Lagos itself. They will be accommodated overnight at the Hajj camp, a site near the airport traditionally used by pilgrims departing for Mecca, where they will undergo customs formalities.
Tomorrow, they will take a commercial flight to the Sierra Leone capital, Freetown, where all of the first group come from. In Freetown they will be met by UNHCR staff. Each family will receive a 2-month food ration, plastic sheeting, blankets, sleeping mats and other domestic items. Prior to departure, the returnees were vaccinated against measles and yellow fever. They also received the necessary background information on the current situation in Sierra Leone, including availability of assistance, the reception procedures and the new education system.
The Lagos-Freetown airlift is part of a one-month operation that will see a total of 270 Sierra Leoneans repatriate in five weekly flights from Lagos. Returnees have been grouped by areas of origin - the second flight will also carry mostly people from Freetown, but subsequent flights will transport refugees from other regions, including Bo and Kenema, Makeni and Koidu, in the east of the country. The operation is scheduled to be completed by September 25. There are about 2,000 Sierra Leone refugees in Nigeria but so far only the 270 have expressed willingness to go back.
Meanwhile, a calming down of the situation in Liberia's capital, Monrovia has led to fewer Sierra Leone refugees signing up for repatriation from the camps there. An eighth repatriation boat from Monrovia is expected in Freetown today, bringing to over 2,200 the total returned by boat since July 22. But many refugees are now adopting a less enthusiastic attitude towards repatriation. A few dozen refugees who had earlier repatriated are believed to have returned to the camps in Liberia, citing the absence of civil authority, the lack of schools, health care and job opportunities in Sierra Leone.
Since September 2000, UNHCR has repatriated over 70,000 Sierra Leonean refugees from Guinea, Liberia and now Nigeria. UNHCR is assisting 100,000 returnees within Sierra Leone, where it is estimated that a total of 170,000 former refugees have returned.