Monrovia (Fides Service)- Now that the road from the Liberian capital Monrovia to the border with Sierra Leone has been re-opened the UN High Commission for Refugees UNHCR has resumed operations to repatriate Sierra Leone refugees from Liberia.
The number of registered Sierra Leone refugees in camps around Monrovia is about 13,000 but there are an estimated 25,000 more unregistered people who fled to Liberia during the civil war in Sierra Leone which ended in 2001. They were prevented from returning by a civil war in Liberia which exploded 1999. In turn the war in Liberia pushed thousands of Liberians to flee for safety to neighbouring countries.
UNHCR has launched a campaign informing people that repatriation operations via land have been resumed, and urging Sierra Leone refugees to go home and help rebuild their country. Repatriation operations were suspended in 2002 following an escalation of violence in the counties of Cape Mount and Bomi after 19,500 persons had been repatriated to these areas. UNHCR began to use ships and commercial flights to take the refugees home. These operations were often carried out under difficult circumstances for example during an attack on Monrovia June-July 2003. Since many were afraid to travel by sea or aid, UNHCR hopes that now repatriation via land has been resumed more Sierra Leone people will decide to return home. In a recent statement UNHCR said “thanks to the deployment of the UN peace force for Liberia UNMIL at Bo Waterside a few days ago and regular patrolling of the area, there is sufficient security for the transit of repatriation convoys from Monrovia to Zimmi in Sierra Leone. The truck convoy will be accompanied by UNHCR experts in land and security operations as well as ambulances with medical personnel aboard”.
The presence of UNMIL at Bo Waterside also made it possible for UNHCR to help Liberian refugees who recently returned with their own means from camps in Sierra Leone. Last week UNMIL and UNHCR moved about 350 Liberians from Bo Waterside at the border to the capital Monrovia. Most had left camps in Sierra Leone because of tension among the local people. UNHCR is also providing assistance for about 500 people who returned to Monrovia with their own means from Sierra Leone. UNHCR and its NGO partners are registering refugees so they may benefit from assistance including shelter in camps, but not food rations. Food aid is provided by the World Food Programme. UNHCR continues to receive reports of other spontaneous returnees in various parts of Liberia. In the last six months of 2003 about 6,000 returnees were registered mainly in the counties of Zwedru, Harper, Nimba and Upper Lofa.
UNHCR continues to monitor returnees with regular field missions in cooperation with partner agencies. Domestic aid has been distributed to the most vulnerable groups and buildings identified for offices and homes. This will continue until a more stable presence will make it possible to guarantee protection and assistance to returning Liberians particular in the east and north of the country. UNHCR has said it needs 39 million dollars for its operations in Liberia in 2004, including programmes to repatriate and reintegrate 150,000 refugees and displaced persons. In the long term, UNHCR hopes to help 320,000 Liberian refugees to return from various parts of West Africa. (L.M.) (Agenzia Fides 3/2/2004, righe 48 parole 639 )