UNHCR to double number of Sierra Leone refugees returning home
CONAKRY, Guinea, Dec. 11 (UNHCR) - Responding to appeals that it speed up the repatriation process, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees will double to 500 the number of Sierra Leoneans it is helping return home each week from neighbouring Guinea.
The decision followed increasing pressures from the refugees who are eager to go home following the improvement of security conditions in many parts of the country. Some of the refugees also want to vote in national elections scheduled for next May in a country torn apart by more than ten years of civil war.
Meanwhile, UNHCR last week transferred 1,816 returnees from temporary resettlements in Lungi, north of the capital of Freetown, to their original homes in the north-western part of the country. A total of 7,500 returnees are to be transported to Kambia in the near future. The refugees had returned from Forécariah in Guinea, but were forced to remain in the Freetown area until recently because of continuing insecurity in many parts of the country.
The refugees still in Guinea will be transported aboard UNHCR's repatriation boat the "Overbeck." The vessel, which until now transported an average of 250 persons on its weekly trip, will add a second weekly rotation to handle the increased flow of returnees.
Most of the refugees who have returned thus far come from four camps in the Kissidougou and Dabola Prefectures in central Guinea. Others continue to make their own way to the Mambya transit centre some 80 kilometres north of Conakry, the Guinean capital.
The first two convoys under the new schedule are planned for Tuesday and Friday. Tuesday's convoy will carry 150 refugees from Sembakounya Camp in central Guinea and 100 refugees from the Mambya transit centre. On Friday, 250 refugees are scheduled to be transported on the "Overbeck" from the three camps in the Albadaria sub-prefecture north of Kissidougou.
During the past year a total of 30,363 refugees have returned by boat to Sierra Leone with the assistance of UNHCR.