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Liberia: new UNHCR appeal

Briefing notes

Liberia: new UNHCR appeal

5 July 2002

UNHCR today is presenting details to donors of a new, $10.4 million appeal for emergency assistance to Liberian refugees affected by recent fighting in their country. This comes amid increasing concern over the condition of tens of thousands of displaced Liberians and Sierra Leonean refugees caught up in the conflict. It also follows the arrival of more than 76,000 fresh Liberian refugees in neighbouring countries since the beginning of this year - an exodus that is continuing. The new appeal is to provide assistance for up to 100,000 Liberian refugees in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Côte d'Ivoire.

At the same time, High Commissioner Ruud Lubbers has issued an urgent plea for humanitarian access to and safe passage for tens of thousands of refugees and Liberian civilians displaced by the renewed fighting in Liberia. We are particularly worried about those who fled Sinje refugee camp on June 20 following an attack by rebels of the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD). Prior to the attack, Sinje housed more than 11,000 Sierra Leonean refugees and 13,000 displaced Liberians.

Sinje was looted and destroyed in the attack, in which four Sierra Leonean refugees were reported killed and five nurses working for an NGO partner of UNHCR abducted. We continue to call for the release of the five nurses, who were taken away by LURD rebels driving a stolen UNHCR ambulance. They later used the ambulance's radio to contact UNHCR to report that the nurses were being held but would not be harmed. Last week, they said they would release the nurses, but we have heard nothing further.

Although a few thousand of the displaced Liberians and Sierra Leonean refugees from the Sinje camp have reached either Monrovia or Sierra Leone, thousands are still believed hiding in the bush. We appeal to both sides in the conflict to ensure that humanitarian assistance can be safely delivered to these people, and that those who wish to leave can find safe passage to secure areas.

Making matters worse, recent arrivals at the Bo Waterside Bridge, which marks the border between Liberia and Sierra Leone, say that forced conscription was taking place along the highway between Monrovia and Sierra Leone. They said that all males between 15 and 45 years of age were being forcibly recruited as they attempted to leave Liberia with their families. Two men were reported to have paid 800 Liberian dollars (US$18) to avoid conscription. Immigration officials at the Sierra Leonean border have confirmed a rise in the number of female-headed families among the recent arrivals.

Last week, there were also reports of up to 20 roadblocks along the same stretch of highway, with armed militia extorting money and personal belongings from those fleeing the fighting. With the only road to Sierra Leone closed by this insecurity, UNHCR is looking at the possibility of sea or air transport for the estimated 35,000 Sierra Leonean refugees who remain in Liberia.

A quick response to this new, $10.4 million appeal is absolutely crucial if we're to help the new Liberian refugees. The emergency appeal will cover a variety of needs, including rehabilitation and construction of camps, domestic needs, transport and logistics, water, sanitation, health and nutrition, and protection monitoring. The needs are enormous in a region already struggling to cope.

Guinea, for example, has had to face the recent arrival of 21,000 Liberians and we urgently need to establish a new camp, transport refugees from the border and provide immediate assistance to those coming to the border. Another 80,000 Liberian refugees were already in Guinea, mostly in urban areas.

Our office in Sierra Leone, which is already struggling to deal with the return of tens of thousands of Sierra Leonean refugees from around the region, says it has only $250,000 left to deal with the recent arrival of some 40,000 Liberians. They need to set up three new camps as well as to provide trucks, water and domestic goods. To cope with the Liberian arrivals, repatriation convoys bringing Sierra Leonean refugees home from neighouring Guinea have been temporarily suspended for an initial period of two weeks to allow the use of maximum trucking capacity for the new Liberian arrivals.

In Liberia itself, UNHCR has to deal with a mixed population of Sierra Leonean refugees and displaced Liberians in our remaining five refugee camps in the Monrovia area. We have only 3,000 pieces of plastic sheeting and only a few blankets and mats left in stock for the more than 35,000 Sierra Leonean refugees and tens of thousands of displaced Liberians in the camps.