Close sites icon close
Search form

Search for the country site.

Country profile

Country website

Liberia: first UNHCR-assisted return of Sierra Leoneans next month

Briefing notes

Liberia: first UNHCR-assisted return of Sierra Leoneans next month

18 January 2002

UNHCR will next month start repatriating Sierra Leonean refugees from camps in Liberia following a spate of recent spontaneous returns and repeated requests from refugees for UNHCR help in going home. It will be the first UNHCR-assisted return from Liberia since the war erupted in Sierra Leone a decade ago.

Because of the limited assistance available at present in eastern Sierra Leone, UNHCR is not promoting a massive repatriation but will facilitate return for those requesting it. Many refugees are keen to repatriate so they can vote in the forthcoming May 2002 elections.

Most of the refugees in Liberia come from the Kono and Kailahun areas in eastern Sierra Leone, devastated by incessant battles between government forces and RUF (Revolutionary United Front) rebels fighting for control of the diamond-rich areas. But under a general peace agreement signed last year, Kono and Kailahun districts have now been disarmed and central and local government will soon be restored. This is opening the way for a more extensive presence by UNHCR and other humanitarian agencies to help the returnees reintegrate and reconstruct their country.

Yesterday, a joint meeting of the government of Sierra Leone, the RUF and the UN peacekeeping mission declared the disarmament process officially completed.

A registration campaign that started in six camps in early January has so far listed a total of 2,069 candidates for return. The registration is being done in conjunction with an extensive information campaign to ensure that would-be returnees are fully aware of the difficult conditions they can expect when they get home. As part of the information campaign, UNHCR staff and government officials from Sierra Leone are visiting six Liberian camps this week. They are holding meetings with refugee leaders and discussing conditions in the areas of return. A film on the Kailahun region is being shown to refugees and go-and-see visits organized for refugee leaders.

In all, UNHCR is assisting some 38,000 Sierra Leonean refugees in several camps around the Liberian capital of Monrovia and closer to the border. An almost equal number of refugees are believed to live unassisted in war-torn Lofa County.

Under the first stage of facilitated repatriation, refugees who come from safe areas of Sierra Leone will be returned to their place of origin. Those originating from districts yet to be declared safe will be accommodated at temporary resettlement camps or in host communities in the south and centre of the country. These camps and communities have limited reception capacity - another reason why UNHCR will not promote a massive repatriation at the present time. Sierra Leone's reception capacity has also been stretched by ongoing facilitated returns from Guinea. Close to 32,000 Sierra Leoneans have returned from Guinea over the past year.