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Liberia: fighting resumes in north, refugees running out of food

Briefing notes

Liberia: fighting resumes in north, refugees running out of food

7 June 2002

Following a few days of quiet, fighting has reportedly resumed in northern parts of Liberia around Bong County and Tubmanberg. While it is unclear whether certain areas have been taken by rebels or government forces, the stream of displaced and refugees continues to grow day by day. We are extremely worried about the refugees in the Sinje camps near Monrovia, who have been closed off from any UNHCR assistance since the fighting started near Ngbanga town several weeks ago. We have been in contact with them by radio and know that they will run out of food and fuel soon. Communication has so far been possible via radio, which will end when the fuel is finished. Without the green light from the Government on the safety of the road leading from Monrovia to the camps, UNHCR can not undertake any mission to provide additional food. We also fear that elements of the fighting forces at large in the region might start looting these unprotected refugee areas.

UNHCR is also worried about the plight of more than 150,000 people presently displaced within Liberia. The numbers of internally displaced people has increased steeply over the past weeks. According to figures from the LRRRC, UNHCR's counterpart in Liberia, around 58,300 are staying in and around the five major refugee/displaced areas across the country. The majority of recently displaced people, over 12,300, have gathered around Zuannah town. VOA camp is housing over 29,500 displaced, Sinje has 13,460 and Samukai has 3,000. All these camps and sites are in the vicinity of Monrovia town. Many of the displaced are housed in makeshift camps, classrooms, transit centres, and other temporary shelters. The whereabouts of the other approximately 100,000 displaced people are not exactly known. UNHCR is trying to assist some of the most needy of these displaced people as well, but we are constantly faced with budgetary constraints regarding a caseload which is not directly of our concern. Limited assistance in medical care and some temporary shelter is all we can give at this moment.

UNHCR is extremely hopeful that efforts towards peace will benefit the civilian population presently living in fear, distress and displacement all over the region. Guinea is presently housing close to 100,000 Liberian refugees, Sierra Leone over 24,000 and Côte d'Ivoire over 130,000.

Despite the increased tensions in the region, UNHCR in Liberia in continuing to register Sierra Leoneans who wish to return home. So far one thousand have signed up for return, but many refugees expressed the intention to sign up as soon as repatriation actually materialises. So far it has been impossible to plan any repatriations overland as the roads have been unsafe. UNHCR has been looking into repatriation possibilities by boat, but these so far have proved incredibly expensive. Liberia is still housing 35,736 refugees from Sierra Leone.