Voluntary repatriation of Sierra Leoneans from Guinea
More than 15,000 Sierra Leonean refugees in camps in Guinea have registered for voluntary repatriation to Sierra Leone. All expressed the wish to return home as soon as possible. With the upcoming May elections in Sierra Leone, registration exercises are taking place in which the refugees need to participate. In addition, many would like to return before the onset of the rainy season.
Intensive diplomatic efforts are under way to open at least two border points between Guinea and Sierra Leone. This would enable Sierra Leoneans to return home spontaneously and more quickly than was previously possible. UNHCR would regularly monitor these routes to ensure that refugees are allowed to return freely with their possessions. Until recently, most of the voluntary repatriation movements took place via Conakry, which did not allow for a quick return of large groups.
Guinea is still hosting more than 50,000 Sierra Leonean refugees. Between December 2000 and June 2001, a total of 35,181 refugees repatriated to Sierra Leone. Sierra Leone's Electoral Commission reported last week that 2.27 million out of an estimated 2.7 million potential voters had registered for the polls. The country has a population of 5.2 million people.
From Liberia, the number of spontaneous returnees to Sierra Leone also increased, especially since a state of emergency was announced in Liberia in mid-February. Since then, more than 6,500 Sierra Leoneans from Liberia returned home in organised transport. It is estimated that Liberia still houses over 65,000 refugees from Sierra Leone.