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Liberia: First airlift expected tomorrow

Briefing notes

Liberia: First airlift expected tomorrow

22 August 2003

The first airlift of much-needed relief supplies for desperate populations in Liberia, among them refugees, is expected in the Liberian capital, Monrovia from nearby Ghana this weekend. A cargo plane carrying six trucks and basic household supplies for an estimated 10,000 people is scheduled to arrive in Monrovia tomorrow, Saturday. This airlift of vehicles will significantly boost UNHCR's depleted logistical capacity. We have been down to three trucks after losing more than 25 vehicles to theft or vandals over the last two months.

A second airlift of relief supplies is expected to arrive in Monrovia early next week from the Danish capital, Copenhagen, where UNHCR's international stockpile is based. The aid flights from Copenhagen are expected to bring in stocks for an additional 20,000 people. Additional supplies for an estimated 7,000 people are also expected aboard the MV Overbeck, the rescue ship chartered by UNHCR in July to evacuate Sierra Leonean refugees from Liberia. The Overbeck on its sixth sailing arrived in Monrovia today with blankets, mattresses, hygiene kits, kitchen sets, soap and plastic sheeting which is used to protect shelters. The combination of air- and sealift over the next few days should enable us to have in place supplies for nearly 40,000 people.

Meanwhile, as the assessment of displacement and humanitarian needs by the UN team in Liberia continues, our staff in Monrovia are actively encouraging Sierra Leonean refugees to return home. On Sunday, the MV Overbeck is expected to evacuate 300 more Sierra Leonean refugees, bringing to 1,750 the total number of refugees evacuated from Liberia since the beginning of July. We estimate that there are still 13,500 Sierra Leonean refugees in Liberia and some 38,000 Ivorians.

In other arrangements, UNHCR hopes to transfer to the camps more than 500 Sierra Leonean refugees who have been camping in our compound in Monrovia for the last several weeks. We expect to help them move tomorrow (Saturday) with the help of ECOMIL troops. Those who wish to return home will be helped to repatriate. The refugees in the compound are from a group of nearly 1,000 who fled to UNHCR's premises in the Mamba Point area at the height of conflict in Monrovia. Many of the refugees have accepted to move.

As we help refugees to return to the camps, we are working with ECOMIL troops to improve security in and around the camps. The troops that were initially positioned on the outskirts of the centre of Monrovia have agreed to patrol the areas around the camps twice a day. Night patrols will also be made. UNHCR staff are now able to visit the camps daily and are discussing with refugees the possibility of setting up neighbourhood watches to improve surveillance in the area.