First overland refugee repatriation from Guinea to Sierra Leone underway
CONAKRY, Guinea, March 22 (UNHCR) - The first overland refugee repatriation convoy from Guinea to Sierra Leone is scheduled to arrive near Freetown Saturday with 500 returnees, the first of what are expected to be twice-weekly convoys to meet the growing demand by Sierra Leonean refugees to return home.
The convoy marked the first time that the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has organised an overland return operation, and follows an agreement with the Guinean authorities to open four border crossings for repatriation. Until now the refugees were taken by route to Conakry, where they boarded boats to Sierra Leone before going by road to their final destinations.
The agency said it planned to organise twice-weekly convoys for up to 1,000 refugees, while another 500 people will continue to be transported weekly by boat as has been the case since December 2000.
Some 15,000 Sierra Leonean refugees in Guinean camps have registered for repatriation. The Sierra Leoneans are eager to go home to participate in the May 15 legislative elections, and many also appear ready to return following the formal end last month of a vicious 10-year civil war in the West African country.
More than 8,900 Sierra Leoneans have also returned home since mid-February on UNHCR-organised convoys from refugee camps around the Liberian capital of Monrovia, their number swollen by the recent fighting between troops loyal to President Charles Taylor and rebels belonging to Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy.
The 12-truck repatriation convoy left Boreah Camp in eastern Guinea Thursday morning and was bound for Port Loko, 40 miles north of the capital of Freetown. The convoy made an overnight stop Thursday in the Guinean town of Mamou. On Friday, it was scheduled to go to the Mambya transit centre some 100 kilometres north of Conakry before arriving in Port Loko on Saturday.
The returnees are to be met at the Sierra Leonean border by government officials and UNHCR staff. In Port Loko, where they are scheduled to spend the night, they will undergo a medical and security screening.
The final leg of the trip is scheduled for Sunday, when the refugees will be taken to their final destinations, mainly in Kailahun and Kono in the eastern part of the country. There they will receive reintegration packages that include a two-month food ration, utensils, agricultural tools, plastic sheeting and building materials.