Close sites icon close
Search form

Search for the country site.

Country profile

Country website

UNHCR resumes repatriation Sierra Leonean refugees from Liberia

Briefing notes

UNHCR resumes repatriation Sierra Leonean refugees from Liberia

2 March 2004

UNHCR is resuming today the overland repatriation of Sierra Leonean refugees from Liberia, following the re-opening of the road between Monrovia and the Sierra Leone border where UNMIL troops have now deployed. We are encouraging Sierra Leonean refugees to take this opportunity now to return home, given that the cut-off date for repatriation convoys and assistance to remaining refugees is set for June this year.

There are an estimated 13,000 Sierra Leonean refugees remaining in camps around Monrovia, and possibly up to 25,000 others who are not registered with UNHCR in the country. Sixty-seven refugees are about to depart as we speak this morning in the first convoy, to be followed by twice-weekly convoys, depending on the demand. UNHCR recently again carried out an information campaign to announce the resumption of land repatriation and to encourage Sierra Leoneans to return home and participate in the rebuilding of their homeland.

The convoy is due to depart this morning and it will reach the border at Bo Waterside around two hours later, before crossing into Zimmi, in Sierra Leone, later today.

The repatriation of Sierra Leoneans by land was suspended in 2002 as a result of escalation of fighting in Grand Cape Mount and Bomi Counties, after about 19,500 refugees had repatriated that way. UNHCR then resorted to using ships and commercial flights to repatriate refugees. This was at times carried out under challenging circumstances, including during the June-July 2003 onslaught on Monrovia.

UNHCR hopes that the resumption of land repatriation will encourage more Sierra Leoneans to return home, as many of them had previously expressed fear of travelling by sea or by air. The deployment of UNMIL at Bo Waterside a few days ago, along with its regular patrol of the area, has created a safe environment for the passage of the repatriation convoys from Monrovia to Zimmi in Sierra Leone. UNHCR field and security staff, as well as medical personnel with ambulances, will accompany the truck convoys.

More generally, the presence of UNMIL at Bo Waterside has now enabled UNHCR to re-establish access by road to Sierra Leone. Conversely, we have thus been able to help some Liberians who have recently spontaneously returned from camps in Sierra Leone. Last week, some 350 Liberians were trucked by UNMIL and UNHCR to the capital from the Bo Waterside border. Most of them had left the camps in Sierra Leone, where some tensions with the local population have been reported.

Meanwhile, UNHCR has also been involved in the capital in the reception of some 500 spontaneous returnees from Sierra Leone who had reached Monrovia on their own. UNHCR and its partner NGOs are present at the point of reception and registering the returnees to enable them to benefit from assistance, including non-food items and shelter in the camps for internally displaced persons. They will also receive food from the World Food Programme.

UNHCR meanwhile continues to receive reports of spontaneous returns in other parts of Liberia. Some 6,000 returns had already been registered countrywide during the last six months of 2003, mainly in Zwedru, Harper and Nimba and upper Lofa counties. We are continuing with regular field missions and are monitoring the returns through our partners. We have also been able to distribute domestic items to the most vulnerable groups and to identify premises for future offices and accommodation. This is until we can establish a more permanent presence to provide protection and assistance to Liberian returnees, particularly in the east and the north of the country.

UNHCR has appealed for $39 million for its operations in Liberia this year, including programmes to repatriate and help the reintegration of 150,000 returning refugees and internally displaced persons. In the longer term, we hope to help an estimated 320,000 Liberian refugees in West Africa to come home.