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Liberia: thousands crossing into Sierra Leone

Briefing notes

Liberia: thousands crossing into Sierra Leone

12 February 2002

Thousands of panicked Sierra Leone refugees living in Liberia - as well as Liberians themselves - have crossed into neighbouring Sierra Leone since the outbreak of fighting last week between Liberian rebels and government forces. They have assembled in the border town of Jendema on the Sierra Leone side of the frontier, where UNHCR by Monday had registered more than 3,000 Liberian refugees and some 2,000 Sierra Leoneans. The Sierra Leoneans came mainly from the Sinje camps, about 20 km from the scene of the latest fighting. Many of those who were registered on Monday arrived over the weekend. This morning (Tuesday), our staff in Jendema had registered some 1,000 more people who arrived in the course of the day. More people fleeing the fighting are said to be on the way.

UNHCR trucks deployed in Jendema this morning are expected to begin the relocation of newly arriving Liberian refugees to the Jimmi Bargbo camp, some 350 km deeper into Sierra Leone. Many of the new arrivals are camped in Jendema. Smaller numbers have, however, gone into nearby border villages. Trucks will also transfer Sierra Leonean returnees to their home areas. The majority of those who have returned home are from Kailahun in the north-east of the country.

In the Liberian capital, Monrovia, UNHCR today is scheduled to send 15 trucks to two refugee camps, some 35 km outside the city, to transfer some 6,000 Sierra Leonean refugees who had volunteered to go home even before the latest outbreak of fighting in Liberia. We believe that the current instability in Liberia may push more Sierra Leoneans to sign up for the trip. The refugees are currently in Sinje I & II camps, which together house some 15,000 Sierra Leoneans.

UNHCR trucks scheduled to depart Monrovia this morning will travel to the camps with a security escort in view of a "state of emergency" declared by the Liberian government late last week. The "state of emergency" imposes restricted movement in and around Liberia, including in the capital.