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Sierra Leonean refugee transfer approved in Liberia

Briefing notes

Sierra Leonean refugee transfer approved in Liberia

24 September 1999

Liberian authorities approved Tuesday the transfer from a temporary site of thousands of Sierra Leonean refugees who had trekked 100 km after insecurity last month prompted them to flee camps in Kolahun, northern Liberia. UNHCR had asked the Government two weeks ago for permission to move the refugees to an established camp.

UNHCR immediately sent a first convoy of trucks to Tarvey, 200 km from Monrovia, where more than 9,000 Sierra Leoneans have sought safety and assistance. 308 refugees were moved Wednesday to a camp at Sinje which with 5,000 refugees has space for another 15,000 to 20,000 people. Convoys will ferry people every three days to the site, which is in Cape Mount County.

The refugees began moving to Tarvey in late August after armed attacks on villages around Kolahun forced aid workers to pull out of the area. In the last 10 days almost 5,000 Sierra Leoneans reached Tarvey, quitting Kolahun in increasing numbers as fear that aid agencies would not be able to return to the area grew. Basic supplies and medical care are still being ferried to Kolahun by helicopter, but UNHCR and NGOs have not been allowed by the military to return by road for security reasons.

Over 900 refugees arrived in Tarvey in the past two days after the five-days' walk through the forest. Several thousand more are reported to be on their way.

An estimated 300 to 400 elderly, handicapped, or ill Sierra Leoneans remain in Kolahun, unable to make the arduous trip on foot. UNHCR has requested an armed escort for a convoy to transport the group to Sinje, and hopes to get approval today, Friday.

There are 90,000 Sierra Leonean refugees in Liberia, around 35,000 of whom were in northern Lofa County before the recent insecurity.