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Renewed fighting drives 3,000 Liberians into Sierra Leone

Briefing notes

Renewed fighting drives 3,000 Liberians into Sierra Leone

8 October 2002

Renewed fighting in Liberia's upper Lofa County last week drove about 3,000 Liberian refugees into Sierra Leone's Kailahun district within a period of two days. As with previous influxes since Liberia's civil war intensified earlier this year, the refugees are mostly women and children and are in poor physical condition.

The influx has since subsided and is thought to have been linked to a specific series of attacks around the town of Kolahun, which is disputed between LURD (Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy) rebels and government forces.

The new arrivals bring to 16,000 the number of Liberian refugees living in precarious conditions in border areas of Sierra Leone's Kailahun district. Many of them arrived since May this year, but initially did not want to be moved to refugee camps because they hoped to be able to return to Liberia soon.

UNHCR in Sierra Leone is struggling to mobilise resources, including some trucks provided by UNAMSIL (the UN peacekeeping mission in Sierra Leone) and additional registration and protection staff from our offices in Freetown and Kenema. We also need domestic items - on "loan" from the returnee programme - to cater for the new arrivals. Shelter is also scarce in existing refugee camps and way stations and we are working against the clock to build additional accommodation.

The transfer of the new arrivals away from the border started on Thursday last week and is continuing every other day, with an average of 400 refugees transported each trip. Medical screening and referral of vulnerable cases to the Kailahun hospital are being done, with more than 60 vulnerable cases, including malnourished children, already identified by our partner NGOs.

Prior to last week's arrivals, the Liberian influx into Sierra Leone had reached a peak in June, when 10,000 refugees arrived in Sierra Leone. August was one of the quietest months since the beginning of the year, with a weekly average of 50 refugees from Liberia, and an equal number of Sierra Leonean returnees from Liberia.

Sierra Leone now hosts some 60,000 refugees who have fled fighting in Liberia, with 46,000 arrivals this year alone. About 38,000 are in camps, 16,000 awaiting transfer at the border, and a further 8,000 living in the urban areas.