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Liberia: third convoy of Sierra Leoneans arrives at transit centre

Briefing notes

Liberia: third convoy of Sierra Leoneans arrives at transit centre

19 February 2002

The third convoy in UNHCR's return programme for Sierra Leonean refugees in Liberia arrived in the south-eastern Sierra Leone town of Zimmi last night with 311 returnees. They spent the night in a transit centre and are due to continue on today to their final destinations. Some may opt to return home to safe areas, in which case they will be provided with transportation and a return package comprising a two-month supply of food, kitchen sets, tools and other materials. Others will be accommodated in one of UNHCR's temporary settlements in Bo district.

Since Feb. 12, convoys have returned close to 800 Sierra Leonean refugees from the two Sinje camps in Liberia. The repatriation movement, which had been planned for some time, started last week amid renewed fighting in Liberia, including some clashes close to Sinje. Some panic-stricken refugees started repatriating of their own accord. Because of recent insecurity, a majority of the 38,000 camp-based Sierra Leonean refugees in Liberia are now said to want to repatriate and more are coming forward every day.

UNHCR has opened an office in Zimmi to help returnees and to cater for a new influx of Liberian refugees. Liberian refugees are still arriving at the nearby Jendema border crossing, although in smaller numbers. Others are arriving further north in Kailahun district. They are being searched at the border by the Sierra Leonean police and army to ensure they are not armed. An additional security screening takes place before refugees are transported to Jimi Bagbo refugee camp or to transit camps established in former demobilisation sites. UNHCR's trucking capacity is stretched to the limit by the combined transport of returnees and refugees from the border, and the agency has obtained UNAMSIL's agreement to cooperate with transport.

UNHCR plans to return at least 600 refugees per week from Liberia as soon as our capacity to absorb them in settlement areas expands in Sierra Leone. Returns of Sierra Leonean refugees from Guinea are also continuing at a rate of 500 per week. UNHCR is planning to accelerate the first phase of "facilitated" repatriation from Guinea to about 1,000 per week as from March. The scheduled opening of the Forécariah/Kambia road will enable land transportation from Conakry. An estimated 92,000 returnees came back last year, including 30,000 with the help of UNHCR from Guinea. The rest are mostly spontaneous returns, including 15,000 from Liberia. UNHCR is planning to repatriate about 50,000 refugees from Guinea in 2002. We will also help an equal number of internally displaced returnees.