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Sierra Leone: Liberian convoys resume

Briefing notes

Sierra Leone: Liberian convoys resume

24 May 2002

Convoys transporting Liberian refugees from border areas deeper into Sierra Leone resumed this week after a two-week suspension because of the recent election. Although Sierra Leone's border with Liberia remains officially closed, Liberian refugees have been allowed into the country. Last Wednesday, trucks began transporting Liberian refugees who fled to Sierra Leone's Zimmi, Kenema and Kailahun border areas to existing refugee camps.

UNHCR staff and Sierra Leone authorities visited the border areas this week to collect information on refugee movements at Dar es Salaam and Gbaa crossing points. They found a total of 1,065 recently arrived Liberian refugees, plus about 2,000 others who had arrived previously.

According to the immigration authorities at Dar es Salaam, some 350 Liberians arrived on Tuesday, using canoes to cross the river. Canoes were also used at Gbaa by more than a hundred refugees. Information received from the authorities in Liberia's Porkpaa district indicate that a group of about 5,000 people are displaced in the area and may be heading for the border.

The new refugees come from Golakonneh and Porkpaa districts in western Liberia. Refugees coming from villages close to the border initially expressed their preference for staying near the frontier to monitor the situation at home, while those coming from further away want to be relocated by UNHCR. Many reported fleeing because of harassment by soldiers and some had difficulties reaching the border.

Sierra Leone has so far relocated 15,000 Liberian refugees to five different sites inland, since the fighting worsened in Liberia earlier this year. Another 9,000 are thought to be in villages along the border. UNHCR's office in Sierra Leone is making plans for the extension of existing sites and the creation of new ones, should the influx continue.

Meanwhile Côte d'Ivoire has also registered a sharp increase in arrivals from Liberia, with 2,500 entering Tabou, Danané or Guiglo, in north-western Côte d'Ivoire, this week. So far some 9,000 Liberians have sought asylum in Côte d'Ivoire this year.

Most of the new arrivals come through Gbinta border crossing, near Danané and are first-time refugees. They come from Nimba county, just across the border, and also from the Gbarnga area where fierce fighting took place last week between government and LURD rebel forces. Some of them fled for fear of being recruited by fighters, and walked for several days from Gbarnga before reaching Côte d'Ivoire.The refugees, who are mainly women and children, report having to pay to be allowed through army checkpoints on the way. Many of them are very exhausted by their long walk, although their general state of health is reported not to be too bad.

In Guinea, 9,600 Liberian refugees have been relocated to the Kouankan camp so far this year, out of a total of about 14,000 new arrivals. A total of 40,000 Liberians have fled their country this year to neighbouring countries.