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Sierra Leone: over 5,000 repatriated

Briefing notes

Sierra Leone: over 5,000 repatriated

20 December 2001

UNHCR has now repatriated over 5,400 Sierra Leonean returnees to their places of origin in the Kambia district, north-west of Sierra Leone. They are part of a group of about 16,000 former refugees who had returned from Guinea over the past year and had been assisted by UNHCR in local hosting communities in the Lokomassama chiefdom, north of Freetown.

Almost daily convoys by truck to Kambia town and by sea to coastal villages have taken place since December 6th. At the departure of one of those convoys, while refugees bade an emotional farewell to their host communities, one woman in a hosting villages said: "Their return home means that peace has really returned to Sierra Leone." Returnees were welcomed in Kambia by UNHCR and NGO staff as well as a jubilant local community. Each family received packages comprising of blankets, sleeping mats, cooking pots, spoons, plates, jerry cans and soap as well as a two-month food ration distributed by WFP. UNHCR is also providing community-based assistance in the district's villages. UNHCR is currently assisting more than 60,000 returnees and refugees in Sierra Leone.

Meanwhile, work on UNHCR's newly established office in Koidu town, Kono District, was interrupted yesterday by unrest in the town, following the decision of authorities to halt mining in Koidu. Civil disturbances between rival factions erupted yesterday but the situation was this morning said to be calm. UNHCR had just established a field office in Koidu as part of its efforts to assist both returnees and Liberian refugees in the East of Sierra Leone. Local staff present in Koidu had been instructed to return to Freetown. Heavy shelling coming from Liberia also continues to be heard in Kailahun area of Sierra Leone. Intensified fighting in Liberia's Lofa county continues to push refugees and Sierra Leonean returnees into Sierra Leone.