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Liberia: Chaotic and dangerous security situation

Briefing notes

Liberia: Chaotic and dangerous security situation

13 June 2003

The UNHCR team in Liberia is urgently looking at ways to help several hundred Sierra Leonean refugees who have been camping in and around our office in the capital Monrovia. The refugees started gathering there last Sunday, after several refugee camps in the outskirts of the capital were overrun by rebels.

In addition, some of the refugees who were trapped in the VOA camp by the fighting have started to arrive in Monrovia, using bush roads. They brought worrying reports of widespread incidents of violence, intimidation and extortion during and after the fighting that raged at the end of last week on the outskirts of the capital. There were reports that three refugees may have been killed, in unknown circumstances, and others arrested. So far, UNHCR has been unable to verify the reports.

UNHCR staff in Monrovia held a meeting yesterday with a senior official of the Liberia Refugee, Repatriation, Resettlement Commission (LCRRR, the government body in charge of refugees) to convey our concerns about safety in the refugee camps around the capital and to push for assistance to those Sierra Leoneans who are camping near our office in town.

Responding to our request, the authorities have indicated they would dispatch monitoring teams to the refugee camps, wherever possible, to assess the situation and inform UNHCR accordingly. Echoing the concerns expressed by the UN Liberia Country Team, which is now evacuated to Abidjan [Côte d'Ivoire], UNHCR also requested that security be provided to humanitarian workers so they can resume their work. This would allow our staff to return to the camps.

UNHCR's four refugee camps around Monrovia were hosting about 15,000 Sierra Leonean refugees when the fresh round of hostilities started. UNHCR believes it is highly likely that most Sierra Leonean refugees at the three camps which were overrun by rebels have dispersed together with the local population, leaving the camps empty.

The High Commissioner remains extremely concerned about the chaotic and dangerous security situation in Liberia and its humanitarian impact. UNHCR fully supports the ongoing efforts to reach a cease-fire and the High Commissioner has urged the subsequent deployment of a peacekeeping force to monitor it and to allow the rapid resumption of humanitarian activities for Liberia's suffering population and refugees.

The Sierra Leoneans who gathered by our office are receiving water supplied by MERLIN, an NGO, and medical assistance by MSF and MERCI at a nearby clinic. We have discussed with the government ways of distributing food, which the World Food Programme has agreed to provide. A registration is due to take place today for that purpose. UNHCR continues to try to convince refugees - for their own safety - to assemble in existing camps for internally displaced persons or seek shelter within the local community. We are also looking at ways of resuming repatriation by ship to Sierra Leone as soon as possible.