Sierra Leone: transit centre residents asked to vacate
UNHCR has issued a joint communiqué with Sierra Leone's government requesting returnees who have been residing in Freetown's three transit centres to vacate the premises. The transit centres are presently sheltering more than 8,000 returnees who came back to Sierra Leone in November 2000, following fighting and insecurity in Guinea's refugee camps. Most of the returnees currently in the transit centres are of the Kono ethnic tribe and they originate from an unsafe area of Sierra Leone. UNHCR has been organising regular convoys from the three transit centres, Jui, Waterloo and Lumpa, to some of our resettlement sites and hosting community projects in the East and South of Sierra Leone, but most returnees have been reluctant to move, arguing they cannot return to their home area. A new site will open next week at Taiama, in the southern Moyamba district, to accommodate these returnees as close as possible to their home area. Transfers will be done on a voluntary basis but refugees who decline will eventually have to find alternative accommodation. The transit centres are not designed for long-term settlement and the conditions are not optimal for a proper assistance there. In addition, these transit centres will be needed again soon to accommodate more returnees when UNHCR starts facilitating returns from camps in Guinea to Sierra Leone, via Conakry. UNHCR is currently assisting a total of 56,373 Sierra Leoneans who have returned from Guinea since September last year. Out of this total, only 4,323 were able to return to their home in safe areas. The rest is being accommodated and assisted in temporary resettlement sites and hosting community projects until their area is declared safe for a permanent return.