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Liberia: Thousands of Sierra Leoneans and Liberians still missing

Briefing notes

Liberia: Thousands of Sierra Leoneans and Liberians still missing

25 June 2002

UNHCR remains concerned about the condition and whereabouts of thousands of Sierra Leone refugees and displaced Liberians dispersed in a rebel attack on a refugee camp in Liberia last Thursday. Hundreds of Sierra Leoneans and Liberians have made their way to Monrovia, and more than 4,000 have turned up in Sierra Leone. But thousands remain in the highly volatile area where the attack took place.

Those arriving in Monrovia are being transferred to one of the existing refugee camps in the capital. UNHCR field workers said those arriving had swollen feet and bruises after walking in the forest for days.

Yesterday, UNHCR was informed by some refugees that a large group of more than 1,000 people coming from Sinje - Sierra Leonean refugees as well as displaced Liberians - had gathered in the Gbah area, near Kle Junction (45 km north-east of Monrovia). They were being stopped from proceeding to the capital by government fighters worried about the potential presence of rebels among them. UNHCR contacted the government, which reacted immediately by sending senior officers to help this group reach Monrovia. Since we cannot send trucks along the unsafe road leading towards Sinje, we are ready to assist them with shelter and WFP with food once they reach Monrovia.

Those Sierra Leoneans and Liberians who had managed to cross the border to Sierra Leone reported that the main highway to the border is very insecure and that thousands of people were still hiding in the forest, trying to find a way to safety. Before the attack, the Sinje camp was holding about 11,000 refugees from Sierra Leone and 13,000 displaced Liberians. Residents of the town are also said to have fled, although some of them may have returned since the attack. The Sinje camp, however, was totally looted and destroyed. A UNHCR ambulance and radio equipment were also stolen.

We are still very worried about five nurses who were abducted on Thursday by the LURD rebels who attacked the camp, and are calling for their immediate release.

UNHCR is urgently looking at the option of a sea repatriation to help some of the 35,000 remaining Sierra Leonean refugees in Liberia to return home as soon as possible. "The remaining refugees should be returned home as soon as possible, before the situation in Liberia gets completely out of hand," said Abou Moussa, UNHCR's regional Coordinator for West Africa.