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High Commissioner to West Africa

Briefing notes

High Commissioner to West Africa

27 April 2004

High Commissioner Ruud Lubbers leaves Thursday on an eight-day mission to West Africa to review progress in the ongoing repatriation and reintegration of Sierra Leonean refugees and to assess prospects for future returns to Liberia. In addition to visiting various field operations, Mr. Lubbers will hold a series of meetings in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia with government officials, other UN agencies, NGOs, the diplomatic community and UNHCR staff.

This will be the High Commissioner's third mission to the region, underscoring the importance he places on finding solutions for refugees in West Africa. His last mission was a year ago.

This time, he will start in Sierra Leone - arriving on Thursday evening. He will witness the country's post-war reconstruction and recovery efforts, as well as assess the situation of 66,000 Liberian refugees and thousands of ex-combatants.

On Friday evening, he will depart for Conakry, Guinea, where he will get a first-hand look at the progress made in repatriating Sierra Leonean refugees, some 90,000 of whom have gone home from Guinea since the end of 2000. The operation is due to come to a region-wide close in June when we will start phasing out assistance to Sierra Leoneans in countries of asylum. Throughout the region, the nearly four-year UNHCR repatriation operation has helped more than 255,000 Sierra Leoneans return and reintegrate.

The High Commissioner will visit Lainé camp, which was established for some 150,000 Liberian refugees in Guinea, as well as one camp for Sierra Leoneans in Boreah.

Mr. Lubbers arrives in Liberia on Monday. The final leg of his journey will be dedicated to discussions on the return and reintegration of refugees, internally displaced persons (IDPs) and other displaced populations in Liberia. Some 18 months ahead of general elections, funds promised at the Reconstruction Conference in New York are still not forthcoming, and UNHCR's appeal of $39.2 million for the return and reintegration programme for Liberian refugees is still some $25 million short. We need to start now in preparing the ground for the return of some 300,000 Liberian refugees from neighbouring countries. Refugees and displaced persons are already spontaneously returning in their thousands to home areas devastated by conflict.

This week, UNHCR is reopening six offices in the country, with 46 staff deployed to the border regions. The High Commissioner will visit a way station opened by UNHCR in Monrovia for spontaneous returnees as well as several IDP camps near the capital.

On Monday, we deployed the 46 staff members to reopen offices in Saclepea and Zwedru in the east, Harper in the south-east, Voinjama in the north, Gbarnga in central Liberia, and Bopolu north of Monrovia. Due to still-volatile conditions, staff from the Harper and Bopolu offices will initially be based in Zwedru and Tubmanburg respectively. Our renewed presence in the field will enable us to collect information, re-establish a network with local authorities, NGOs and the community, as well as accelerate reintegration and rehabilitation projects.