UNHCR receives funds for Sierra Leonean emergency and Liberian return
Refugee operations in West Africa got a boost Thursday when UNHCR announced it had received over $3 million this month for the Sierra Leonean emergency and Liberian repatriation.
The contributions were announced by Abou Moussa, head of operations in the region. "Since the beginning of October we've received crucial financial support for our programmes in these countries from the United States and the European Union," Moussa said.
"This is especially important late in the year, when we are stretching resources to ensure we can help Liberians who want to go home and Sierra Leoneans who are being chased from their country by war," he added.
UNHCR has appealed for $39.5 million for the operations for 1998. The latest donations bring the total received to $26.4 million.
$1.7 million is destined specifically for victims of the violence in Sierra Leone, where rebels resisting West African peacekeepers have mutilated and assaulted hundreds of civilians in order to sow terror in the countryside.
"In Guinea we've treated 475 refugees who've had their hands or arms cut off by rebels as a 'message' to the population. There are hundreds more victims inside Sierra Leone, and several times that number of women and children who've suffered rape and trauma," said Moussa. UNHCR and specialized non-governmental organizations are working to aid the victims.
In the past two weeks, 7,500 new Sierra Leonean refugees have been registered in Forécariah, Guinea, and battles between loyalist forces and rebels show no sign of abating.
UNHCR is currently assisting 400,000 Sierra Leonean refugees in Guinea and Liberia. Around 250,000 of those have arrived since fighting between the deposed military junta and West African peacekeepeers started earlier this year.
The Liberian repatriation has so far brought more than 80,000 people home by boat and buses from Guinea, Côte d'Ivoire, Ghana and Nigeria. An estimated 150,000 living close to borders with Liberia have repatriated on foot with aid packages from UNHCR.
"The rate of return has slowed during the rainy season because of poor roads," said Moussa, "but we need to mobilize to meet the demand for transport over the next few months".
There were 480,000 Liberian refugees in countries of asylum at the start of 1998. UNHCR said it hoped, with area governments, to bring the vast majority of the refugees home by the end of 1999 if security and funding permit.