Lubbers seeks to alleviate plight of displaced Liberians
DURBAN, South Africa, July 9 (UNHCR) - As the flight from strife-torn Liberia continues, UN refugee agency chief Ruud Lubbers has arrived in Africa to consult national leaders on alleviating the plight of tens of thousands of displaced Liberians.
On Monday, Lubbers arrived in Durban, South Africa to attend the summit of OAU/AU (Organisation of African Unity/African Union), where he raised concerns about the deteriorating conditions of refugees and internally displaced persons in Liberia. He was expected to seek support from West African regional body ECOWAS to resolve the latest round of fighting in Liberia when he meets Senegal's President and ECOWAS chairman Abdoulaye Wade on Tuesday.
The civil war in Liberia has been raging since 1991. Tensions heightened recently when rebels from Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) attacked Sinje refugee camp in north-western Liberia on June 20, forcing more than 11,000 Sierra Leonean refugees and 13,000 displaced Liberians to flee.
Since then, some 8,500 Liberians and nearly 2,200 Sierra Leoneans have arrived in Sierra Leone through the Gendema border crossing. Many others are arriving through official border crossings further north, with large groups coming through unofficial crossing points.
Thousands more from Sinje are believed to be still in the conflict area, many reportedly hiding in the bush. The UNHCR office in Monrovia has sent staff to five remaining camps around the capital to interview new arrivals on the possible whereabouts and conditions of those fleeing Sinje.
Some 35,000 Sierra Leonean refugees remain in Liberia, many of whom are anxious to return home as soon as possible. So far, more than 2,000 have registered for repatriation, but because the main road between Monrovia and Sierra Leone is still blocked, UNHCR has begun making logistical arrangements to transport returnees back to Sierra Leone by sea. The first boat trips could start as early as next week.
As for the fate of five nurses abducted by LURD rebels on June 20, High Commissioner Lubbers on Monday requested Sierra Leone - as one of the governments in the region concerned with peace and stability in the Mano River area - to intervene in securing their release from LURD.
Continued fighting in Liberia has sent more than 40,000 Liberians fleeing to Sierra Leone since the beginning of this year. Another 37,000 have fled to Côte d'Ivoire, Guinea and Ghana. Last week, UNHCR issued a $10.4-million appeal to provide emergency assistance for up to 100,000 Liberian refugees in the region.