Sierra Leone: evacuation from rebel-held area
UNHCR was able for the first time last week to evacuate 130 Liberian and Guinean refugees from an area of Sierra Leone controlled by Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels. The group, which had been in Kailahun, eastern Sierra Leone, was taken to a government-controlled area where they can receive urgently needed assistance. They included 106 vulnerable and sick Liberian refugees and their families, as well as 24 Guineans. The most critical cases were provided with medical treatment at Kenema hospital, while the remaining refugees were taken to one of UNHCR's temporary settlement camp near Bo. The 24 Guinean nationals had been in Sierra Leone since armed attacks on their homes in Guéckédou, Guinea, in January this year. UNHCR, which had already helped a group of Guineans to get back home last month, will again assist them in repatriating to Guinea and tracing their families.
The evacuation took place at the end of a two-day mission by UNHCR officials to Kailahun, Buedu and Koindu, three RUF-held districts in the east of Sierra Leone. It was carried out with the collaboration of UNAMSIL, the UN mission in Sierra Leone, and the RUF, which has now shown its willingness to allow people to leave their area of control. UNHCR welcomes this development. The mission was the first of a series of similar missions which will be carried out to assess the situation of Sierra Leonean returnees, Liberian refugees and Guinean nationals in these RUF-controlled areas. The mission found that many thousands of Sierra Leonean returnees and Liberian refugees had settled in Kailahun, Buedu and Koindu over the past couple of months, as a result of insecurity in Guinea and Liberia. While local communities have been generously hosting the newcomers, the humanitarian situation in these areas is critical with almost complete lack of medical, educational and sanitation facilities. There are also food shortages. Although UNHCR will not be able to be fully operational in these RUF-controlled areas until the security situation improves, the agency is exploring ways of easing the suffering of returnees and refugees.