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Northern Liberia: UNHCR yet to receive final clearance for movement

Briefing notes

Northern Liberia: UNHCR yet to receive final clearance for movement

14 September 1999

Despite getting agreement in principle for a transfer of thousands of Sierra Leonean refugees fleeing insecurity around camps in northern Liberia one month ago, UNHCR has yet to receive final clearance from the Liberian government for the move to a safer site nearer Monrovia, the capital.

Around 5,000 Sierra Leonean refugees have regrouped in Targbe, a town 200 km from Monrovia. They fled there in August after armed attacks on villages in northern Lofa County which forced the relocation of aid workers and left humanitarian stocks and offices looted. UNHCR is seeking to transfer the 5,000 and another 8,000 Sierra Leonean refugees who have remained in Kolahun, Lofa County.

UNHCR has so far been able to move only 350 particularly vulnerable cases to Sinje, an existing camp which can accommodate an additional 15,000-20,000 refugees. There are 90,000 Sierra Leonean refugees in Liberia, around 35,000 of whom were in Lofa County.

Medical care and supplies, ferried by helicopter, are still available to refugees in Targbe and Lofa County, but UNHCR is concerned for their security and that of aid workers, and that access to the remote area could be cut off by fresh fighting. On Friday, 10 September, an attack on the Guinean town of Macenta, just across the border from Lofa, left dozens of civilians dead.

Repatriation of Liberian refugees to Lofa County was suspended last month. Liberians continue to volunteer for return to other areas from Guinea, Côte d'Ivoire and, since the beginning of the month, Sierra Leone. In all, over 334,000 Liberians have come home on their own and with UNHCR since 1997.