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High Commissioner to West Africa

Briefing notes

High Commissioner to West Africa

9 May 2003

High Commissioner Ruud Lubbers leaves tomorrow (Saturday, 10 May) on an eight-day mission to five West African nations - Côte d'Ivoire, Ghana, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea. West Africa has been one of Mr. Lubbers' priorities since he went there on his very first field mission as High Commissioner in early 2001. There are enormous needs in the region - needs that we fear have been completely overshadowed by recent events in Iraq and elsewhere.

Overall, the West Africa region accounts for more than 520,000 refugees, about 400,000 of them in the five nations that Mr. Lubbers will be visiting. While there have been marked improvements in some areas since his 2001 mission, UNHCR remains very concerned about continuing instability in Liberia and by the fragile situation in Côte d'Ivoire.

In all five countries, the High Commissioner will meet with UNHCR staff and our UN and NGO partners. He wants to get a first-hand look at UNHCR's efforts to help Liberian refugees in western Côte d'Ivoire and will travel to that region on Sunday. On Monday, he is scheduled to meet several government officials in Abidjan, including President Laurent Gbagbo and Prime Minister Seydou Diarra.

He is scheduled to travel to Accra, Ghana, on Tuesday, when he will meet President John Agyekum Kufuor and other officials, as well as visit the Buduburam Refugee Settlement.

On Wednesday, Mr. Lubbers is scheduled to travel to Monrovia, Liberia, where he will spend most of the day before flying on late afternoon to Freetown, Sierra Leone. In Monrovia, he is scheduled to meet President Charles Taylor and other officials and visit camps for refugees and internally displaced.

On Thursday, he will meet Sierra Leonean President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah and other officials before travelling to Tobanda camp and other settlements and programmes for both returnees and Liberian refugees. Mr. Lubbers wants to see the enormous progress that has been made in Sierra Leone over the past few years, including a UNHCR-assisted repatriation programme that has helped more than 220,000 people return home since 2000.

On Friday afternoon, he will travel to Conakry, Guinea, where he is scheduled to meet with various government officials before travelling on Saturday to the Nzérékoré region in the south of the country, where he will visit Liberian and Ivorian refugees. On Sunday, he returns to Conakry for a daylong series of meetings before departing in the evening for Geneva.