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Liberia: fighting hampers Sierra Leone repatriation

Briefing notes

Liberia: fighting hampers Sierra Leone repatriation

18 June 2002

Sporadic clashes in parts of Liberia are hampering UNHCR's efforts to resume repatriation of Sierra Leonean refugees from Liberia. About 11,000 of them are still stranded in Sinje refugee camps, 40 km from the Sierra Leonean border. UNHCR staff tried to drive to Sinje from the capital, Monrovia, yesterday to register refugees willing to go back. However, our vehicles were turned back by government soldiers who cited fighting along the road. UNHCR is currently looking at other options, such as repatriation by sea, or by convoys of trucks sent in directly from Sierra Leone along a relatively safe stretch of the road.

Meanwhile, in another area of Liberia, UNHCR was able to register a group of Sierra Leonean refugees displaced by the fighting in Lofa and Bong counties, where they had lived among the local population. About 400 of these refugees were found near Totota, south-west of the town of Gbarnga, which came under attack in recent weeks. Totota is also a gathering point for displaced Liberians.

Although initially a convoy was planned for these refugees to return to Sierra Leone on June 20, insecurity along the Monrovia-Sierra Leone road has again put the return on hold. Liberia is hosting 36,000 refugees from Sierra Leone in camps, in addition to an estimated 31,000 living among the local population. It is expected that a majority will return, once conditions are safe.

In Guinea, meanwhile, UNHCR is working relentlessly to transfer from the border 6,500 refugees who arrived last week in the villages of Sedimay, Fassankony and Koyamah, in the Macenta area. Transfer of the more vulnerable refugees to the camp of Kouankan is planned for this week. Kouankan, which houses 23,000 people, is already overcrowded beyond its initial capacity of 20,000. An additional influx would put tremendous pressure on the existing facilities at the camp. Financial constraints are presently preventing us from building an extension to the camp or starting a new site at Lainé, north-east of Nzérékoré. Meanwhile, UNHCR is delivering food, medicine and domestic items such as mats, blankets and kitchen utensils to the border area, where 30-40 new refugees arrive daily.

Guinea hosts over 100,000 refugees of which over 20,000 arrived this year alone.