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Liberia: Sierra Leonean returnees report camp attacks, looting

Briefing notes

Liberia: Sierra Leonean returnees report camp attacks, looting

15 July 2003

More than 950 Sierra Leonean refugees have so far been assisted home from Liberia by UNHCR since the start of an emergency evacuation operation by sea on July 4.

On Saturday (July 12), the MV Overbeck chartered by UNHCR to evacuate thousands of stranded refugees in the Liberian capital, Monrovia, made its third voyage from Monrovia to the Sierra Leonean capital, Freetown, bringing 299 Sierra Leonean refugees to safety.

Returnees arriving in Sierra Leone report that many more refugees, particularly those in camps, desperately want to go home in the face of declining security in the Monrovia-area camps. Returnees spoke of night attacks on the camps by government soldiers. Significant numbers of refugees who fear looters, harassment and assault by fighters are now leaving the camps for other destinations in and around the Liberian capital.

Many of the returnees said they had lost property to government soldiers, particularly those manning checkpoints or along the streets of Monrovia.

The returnees, who spoke to UNHCR staff on arrival in Freetown yesterday (July 14), said their already difficult situation in Liberia worsened after the announcement of the indictment of President Charles Taylor, who subsequently made public statements against Sierra Leoneans in the country.

Some refugees who have small businesses in Liberia would like to resume their trading once the situation in Liberia stabilizes. Most businesses and banks in Liberia's capital, Monrovia, have remained closed since the outbreak of conflict at the beginning of June. Tens of thousands of people, among them refugees, now sheltering in public buildings and elsewhere throughout Monrovia have not returned to their homes or camps. Many fear they could be cut off again from the capital in the event of renewed fighting.

Meanwhile, our national staff in Monrovia continue to register Sierra Leonean refugees for emergency repatriation home. Limited assistance is being provided to those in camps. A food distribution to several thousand refugees in the Samukai camp was completed last Friday (July 11). Similar aid is being sent to refugees in Banjor camp.