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Liberia: stranded returnees to be airlifted

Briefing notes

Liberia: stranded returnees to be airlifted

23 April 2004

UNHCR, in collaboration with the UN mission in Liberia (UNMIL), will begin on Saturday an airlift of 229 Liberian refugees. The group, which consists mainly of women and children, has been stranded at the Mali border since early March when they decided to return to Liberia after living for years as refugees in Ghana.

The refugees had been blocked at the Mali border after failing to secure authorization from the Guinean government to travel across Guinea on their way home to Liberia. Following discussions between UNHCR, Liberia and Mali, arrangements were made for the refugees to be repatriated to Liberia.

On Thursday, the Liberians were transported overland from the Mali border town of Sikasso to the capital, Bamako, from where the first group of around 40 Liberians will be flown to Monrovia on Saturday.

UNMIL is providing a Boeing 727 aircraft for the special humanitarian operation. Two flights per day, until Monday, are planned, each carrying around 40 refugees.

Thousands of Liberian refugees have been returning to Liberia since former president Charles Taylor left Monrovia in August, ending 14 years of civil conflict. UNHCR has assisted some 9,500 Liberian returnees since December. Because of insecurity in some of the areas of origin, nearly 6,000 of the returnees have been unable to proceed to their homes and are being assisted at the Perry Town way station and the Siegbeh camp for displaced persons in the Monrovia area.

UNHCR is constructing additional facilities for returnees in preparation for the start of organized repatriation for more than 300,000 Liberian refugees in the neighbouring countries. This operation is due to begin in October at the end of the rainy season, providing the peace process continues without major incidents.