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Liberia: Situation outside Monrovia still worrying

Briefing notes

Liberia: Situation outside Monrovia still worrying

19 August 2003

UNHCR has resumed boat-lifting of Sierra Leonean refugees from Monrovia to Freetown after a break of several weeks. A total of 203 Sierra Leonean refugees sailed home last Sunday and more will follow this week. Of the ones who took last Sunday's boat, 168 had been displaced by the fighting and found refuge in the UNHCR compound in Monrovia, while 35 were picked up from Samukai camp, just outside the ECOMIL-controlled area.

Over 13,500 Sierra Leonean refugees presently remain in Liberia. In addition over 35,000 Ivorian refugees are believed to be in the east of the country, still controlled by rebels and inaccessible to UNHCR.

UNHCR is very worried about the safety of refugees and IDPs around Monrovia and the rest of the country. With only a limited number of ECOMIL troops already deployed and militia still roaming around freely, the situation in and beyond Monrovia remains far from secure. UNHCR is especially concerned about the well-being of Sierra Leonean refugees still remaining around Monrovia. Over the weekend, we sent out two assessment missions to Samukai, VOA and Manjor camps. All these camps are located within a 10km range of central Monrovia, just outside the ECOMIL-controlled area. They were all severely affected by several spells of fighting.

VOA camp was particularly vulnerable, as it lies next to the main road leading from the Po River in central Monrovia. The camp, which used to house over 7,500 refugees, is now nearly deserted. Most refugees have fled into the bush or found refuge in other people's homes. Some have moved into central Monrovia or into UNHCR's office compound. Refugees who remained in the camp were severely traumatized by the fighting, looting and killing that took place in the area. .

In Samukai camp, formerly home to over 4,000 refugees, we met about 50 people. The refugees were very relieved to see us, as they and the local population continue to be harassed by local militia. They said on that Sunday, two young refugee girls were abducted from the camp by militiamen.

UNHCR has asked ECOMIL to carry out twice-daily patrols along the main road leading up to Samukai camp. Even though patrolling can only have a limited effect, it may give the local population at least some feeling of security. UNHCR hopes that the area will become more secure as ECOMIL deploys more troops in the area.

While aid workers have now returned to Monrovia, access to the rest of the country remains impossible. Security assessments are presently being made on the main roads leading to Sierra Leone and Côte d'Ivoire and negotiations are underway on the creation of humanitarian corridors. These corridors would facilitate unhindered transport of refugees and supplies between Liberia and Sierra Leone and Côte d'Ivoire.

Meanwhile UNHCR aid supplies continue to arrive in Monrovia. On Friday, the MV Overbeck brought blankets, mattresses, plastic sheeting, hygiene kits, kitchen sets and soap for 7,000 people and 4,000 litres of much-needed fuel. By Thursday, the MV Overbeck will return to Monrovia with additional supplies for 7,000 people. We are also expecting the arrival of an aircraft from Accra on Friday with six trucks and supplies for 7,000 people. Another aircraft from Copenhagen will bring cars, generators, telecoms equipment and supplies for up to 15,000 people.

Note for online edition: ECOMIL: ECOWAS Mission in Liberia; ECOWAS: Economic Community of West African States.