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Liberian return: UNHCR appeals for open borders

Briefing notes

Liberian return: UNHCR appeals for open borders

13 December 1999

On Sunday, UNHCR completed a three-day operation to repatriate the last Liberian volunteers from Sierra Leone, using an aircraft and helicopters to ferry 213 refugees back from the towns of Bo, Kenema and the capital, Freetown. In all, over 1,800 of the approximately 8,000 Liberian refugees in Sierra Leone have elected to return home, most of these in 1999 after fighting rocked Freetown early in the year, cutting off aid to refugee sites. UNHCR has operated both aircraft and a boat from Sierra Leone.UNHCR has also appealed to the governments of Liberia and Guinea to reopen the countries' common border to returning refugees. Border posts were shut in August after security incidents in northern Liberia, and no repatriation convoys have been operated since.

Several hundred Liberians in Nzérékoré, south-eastern Guinea, have now told UNHCR they want to go home, and UNHCR has reminded the governments that it is scheduled to end its assistance to returning refugees on 31 December, 1999. UNHCR's proposals include transferring Liberians from Guinea to Liberia through neighbouring Côte d'Ivoire. More than 13,000 Liberians had repatriated on UNHCR convoys during 1999 from Guinea before the August incidents, bringing the total from that country since 1997 to 75,000. Returns from Côte d'Ivoire, the other main country of asylum, have continued throughout.

An estimated 340,000 of 480,000 Liberians have returned with UNHCR help and on their own since 1997. Many of the remaining groups will likely return spontaneously, while UNHCR is looking into solutions for those who have said they do not want to go home.