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West Africa Update

West Africa Update

7 March 2002

7 March 2002

UNHCR is mounting a complex operation in West Africa to:

  • cope with a new influx of over 10,700 Liberian refugees fleeing renewed conflict in Liberia
  • help thousands of Sierra Leonean refugees returning from Guinea and Liberia, and
  • relocate thousands more Sierra Leonean returnees who have been staying in temporary settlements back to home areas that have now been declared safe

New Arrivals of Liberian Refugees in Sierra Leone and Guinea

So far, over 10,700 Liberian refugees have arrived in Jendema, on Sierra Leone's south-eastern border with Liberia, since early February. The new influx began in early February following renewed fighting in Liberia around Tubmanburg, Sawmill and Klay Junction, some 35 kilometres from the capital, Monrovia. Arrivals have dropped off in recent days.

UNHCR is relocating the refugees from Jendema town to Jimi Bagbo camp in the south-eastern district of Pujehun and to existing temporary settlements that have housed Sierra Leoneans returning from neighbouring Guinea and Liberia. Over 2,000 Liberian refugees have been relocated so far to ease pressures on Jendema, where the sanitation, water and shelter facilities are stretched thin with the large numbers of refugees and returnees arriving there. UNHCR's partner, Médecins Sans Frontières, is setting up additional water and sanitation facilities in Jendema.

UNHCR is also moving Liberian refugees who arrived earlier in Kailahun district, north of Jendema, further inland from villages along the border. More than 2,000 Liberian refugees are thought to remain in Kailahun and several hundred per week are being moved to camps and settlements further inside the country. Some 4,800 have been relocated so far. There are no reports of new influxes of Liberians into Kailahun.

Smaller numbers of Liberians have also arrived in Guinea in recent weeks. A UNHCR team visited Guéckédou near Guinea's southern border with Liberia last weekend and identified 368 new arrivals including 188 children. Some separated children and orphans, including a three-month-old baby found by a woman along the way, have been identified among the group. On Saturday (2 March), UNHCR and its partners transported 342 refugees to Télikoro camp in Kissidougou to the north. Some refugees preferred to stay in Guéckédou or go to Kouankan to stay with relatives. The new arrivals report that another 400 Liberians have entered Guinea by Tekoulo and are on their way to Guéckédou. Most of the new arrivals in Guéckédou area, as in Macenta and Nzérékoré (also along the Guinea-Liberia border), are mainly from Liberia's Kolahun District in Lofa county, northern Liberia.

In Nzérékoré, Guinea, UNHCR has recorded the arrival of about 100 refugees who travelled by bus from Monrovia. Other new refugees entered through Thuo in Lola prefecture. Some 170 new arrivals were transferred last week to Kola camp from Nzérékoré town, Diecke and Thuo. In the past weeks, over 1,260 new arrivals have been transferred to Kouankan from Badiaro and Daro, in Macenta. Some 500 new arrivals in Daro and 28 others in Koyama (Macenta) will be transferred to Kouankan camp. UNHCR is planning to transfer new Liberian refugees, including those who arrive in Guéckédou area, to camps in Nzérékoré region.

Sierra Leonean Returnees from Liberia and Guinea

Assisted returns from Guinea - UNHCR/IOM boats making regular, twice-weekly trips from Guinea to Sierra Leone, are bringing home a weekly total of some 500 Sierra Leonean refugees.

We hope to begin transporting returnees by land around the middle of March, when the border crossing between Sierra Leone and Guinea will be opened and the rehabilitation of 11 kilometres of road between Forécariah and Pamelap over the border crossing will be completed. Since December 2000, UNHCR has assisted more than 35,000 Sierra Leonean refugees to return from Guinea.

Assisted returns from Liberia - UNHCR began transporting Sierra Leonean refugees who wished to return home from Sinje camps in western Liberia on February 13. Convoys from Monrovia camps started up on February 26. So far, some 4,800 Sierra Leoneans have returned on 14 convoys.

Spontaneous returns from Liberia - Sierra Leoneans are also returning from Liberia on their own. Over 7,400 have returned since early February. Spontaneous returns have dropped off since UNHCR convoys began in mid-February from around 800 per day in the second week of February to under 100 per day in recent weeks. UNHCR is relocating spontaneous returnees away from Jendema town to their home areas or settlement sites. Over 2,000 have been relocated on six convoys so far.

Returnees are assisted with transportation and a settlement package from UNHCR. Returnees originating from areas declared safe by the Sierra Leone government are taken to their home areas, while those whose areas have not yet been declared safe have the option of staying in UNHCR's temporary settlements in Bo District in central Sierra Leone or going to a drop-off point at a safe destination close to their home area.

The vast majority of returnees are heading back to Kailahun district, which borders on Liberia and Guinea. The second largest destination is Kenema district, followed by Pujehun and Bo districts. Smaller numbers are returning to Koinadugu and Bombali districts in the North, Tonkolili district in central Sierra Leone, and Port Loko and Western Area districts to the West. Only some 140 returnees have opted to go to a settlement site so far.

The large numbers of returnees are stretching Sierra Leone's reception capacity, particularly in areas which have only recently been declared safe.

Relocation from Temporary Settlements in Sierra Leone

UNHCR is also helping to relocate Sierra Leonean returnees who have been staying in temporary settlements to home areas that are now declared safe. More than 15,000 have left the settlements with UNHCR help since December, 2001.

Emergency Staff Deployed to Region

UNHCR has dispatched emergency staff to the region to help cope with the large numbers of people on the move and to beef up our presence in field locations, at transit centres, settlements and camps. Fifteen staff have arrived so far, and more are on the way this week.

Assistant High Commissioner in Guinea

UNHCR Assistant High Commissioner Kamel Morjane arrived in Conakry, Guinea, late Tuesday in the first stop of a four-day mission aimed at getting a first-hand view of efforts planned or now under way to strengthen the protection of children in refugee camps in the region.

Morjane, UNHCR's No. 3 official, will remain in Guinea until Friday morning, when he travels to Freetown, Sierra Leone. He is scheduled to depart Freetown on Saturday.

At the request of High Commissioner Ruud Lubbers, the Assistant High Commissioner will review actions planned and already undertaken to strengthen the protection of young refugees following allegations of exploitation by aid workers using humanitarian assistance in exchange for sexual favours. The allegations have prompted an investigation.