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Liberia: Sea repatriation of Sierra Leoneans resumed

Briefing notes

Liberia: Sea repatriation of Sierra Leoneans resumed

13 May 2003

Repatriation of Sierra Leonean refugees by sea resumed from the Liberian capital, Monrovia, last week. The first boat, carrying 243 people, left Monrovia on Friday and docked at Queen Elizabeth Quay in Freetown on Saturday, after a 30-hour trip. A second boat with 147 people on board is due to arrive today in Freetown.

Once they arrive back in Sierra Leone, returnees are briefed about entrance procedures and then travel in convoys to their places of origin. Before the journey they receive water and a meal at the Juin transit centre near Freetown, where they spend their first night. The returnees also receive a package that contains domestic items, a four-month food ration and a transport allowance. The main areas refugees go back to are Kenema, Kailahun and Pujehun Districts in the east and south of the country.

As returns by sea increase, the costly air repatriation from Monrovia has now been suspended after a total of 909 persons had been brought back this way since February 28.

Since 2001, close to 63,000 Sierra Leoneans have returned from Liberia, 48,000 of them with the assistance of UNHCR. Currently there are still some 16,000 Sierra Leonean refugees hosted in five UNHCR camps around Monrovia - their willingness to return often varies, depending on fighting and security developments around the Liberian capital. At this time, about 800 are registered to go back on the next boats.

In Guinea, the repatriation of Sierra Leonean refugees is continuing, both through Pamelap in the west of the country and through the Parrot's Beak region, directly into Kailahun. Since the beginning of this year, UNHCR has repatriated a total of 16,500 people - half of them through the Parrot's Beak since the new route opened on April 4. Returns from Guinea total 160,000 since the end of 2000. About 70,000 of them have gone back with UNHCR assistance. An estimated 25,000 Sierra Leonean refugees remain in various camps in Guinea.

UNHCR expects to complete the Sierra Leonean repatriation from all countries in the region within the next twelve months.