Guinea: overland repatriation of Sierra Leoneans resumes
The overland repatriation of Sierra Leoneans from Guinea resumed this week, after a 42-day suspension caused by lack of trucks in Sierra Leone. On Monday, seven trucks departed the transit camp of Mambya, about 120 km north of Conakry, where 120 refugees had converged hoping for a ride back home. The trucks reached Port Loko way station in northern Sierra Leone on Monday night and continued on Tuesday to other locations inside the country. This first operation was a test-run, and the operation will resume in full once more repair work has been done on the roads. There are still 42,000 Sierra Leonean refugees in camps in Guinea.
Whereas in previous operations UNHCR used trucks from Sierra Leone for the Sierra Leonean leg of the journey, under the new set-up the entire transfer is done by Guinean trucks. This allows UNHCR in Sierra Leone to keep its small fleet of local trucks for other tasks like the relocation of Liberian refugees away from the border and the extension work on existing refugee camps.
Meanwhile, repatriation of Sierra Leoneans refugee continues by sea from Liberia. A sixth ship carrying 272 returnees is expected in Freetown this morning. The previous ship arrived last Saturday with 312 passengers on board, bringing to 1,800 the number repatriated by sea since July 22.
UNHCR's office in Monrovia is looking at additional options, such as hiring of a second vessel - the MV Overbeck, previously used in 2000/2001 to transport refugees from Guinea - or even an airlift to accelerate the pace of returns to about 900 people per week.