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Liberia: UNHCR national staff faced with thousands of displaced in Monrovia

Briefing notes

Liberia: UNHCR national staff faced with thousands of displaced in Monrovia

8 July 2003

UNHCR national staff in Monrovia are still struggling to cope with thousands of refugees and displaced who have converged on the Liberian capital. In addition to hundreds of refugees encamped around the UNHCR compound itself, our staff are visiting various groups of refugees scattered around Monrovia and surrounding areas. Many refugees from the sprawling VOA camp on the outskirts of the capital are still camped in city schools and other buildings. VOA camp itself remains deserted, although there are indications that small numbers of refugees have begun to return. In all, there were some 15,000 Sierra Leonean refugees in camps around Monrovia before the latest fighting started in early June.

Our remaining staff in Monrovia have been able to continue providing some humanitarian assistance to refugees in Samukai camp, 13 km from the city. Our local health partner, MERCY, has continued to provide round-the-clock health care there, and a food distribution is planned for later this week. In the nearby Banjor camp, relief assistance remains very minimal. However, we have not been able to resume work in VOA camp at all. There are fears among our partners that distribution of aid to the small groups of refugees reportedly returning to VOA will be a magnet for militia groups.

Meanwhile, our Monrovia staff are making preparations for the second voyage of the rescue ship the MV Overbeck, which arrived in Monrovia from Freetown early this morning and is now waiting to dock. Our staff have registered 366 Sierra Leonean refugees for the second emergency evacuation to Freetown. The first voyage brought 300 refugees home to Sierra Leone on Sunday. The majority of those on today's passenger manifest are from Samukai camp, one of the four Monrovia-area camps. Samukai, with some 3,800 residents, was not affected by the recent fighting. However, many of the camp residents would still like to return home to Sierra Leone.

Our logistical capacity in Monrovia remains very limited. This morning, we have three trucks, including one from the European Union, which our staff will use to ferry the refugees to the port. Because of the limited capacity, a number of trips will have to be made between Samukai and Monrovia's Freeport. The ship should set sail again this afternoon for Freetown, where it is expected to arrive on Thursday, July 10.

Many of the refugees from the first voyage were transported yesterday (Monday, July 7) to their home areas in Kailahun and Pujehun districts in south-east Sierra Leone after spending Sunday night at our transit centre in Jui, on the outskirts of Freetown.