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Conditions in Sierra Leone not right for refugee returns, Annan reports

Conditions in Sierra Leone not right for refugee returns, Annan reports

The fragile situation in Sierra Leone is not conducive to the repatriation of the country's thousands of refugees, according to a just-released report by Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who warns that large parts of the territory remain under rebel control and beyond the reach of humanitarian aid and government services.

"For the time being, I believe that the conditions for the immediate return of all refugees to Sierra Leone do not exist," Mr. Annan writes in a report to the Security Council on refugees and internally displaced persons. "The Governments in the region, UNHCR [the UN refugee agency] and other United Nations agencies must therefore continue their efforts to ensure the protection, safety and well-being of refugees and internally displaced persons on their territory."

Mr. Annan also points out that armed conflict in neighbouring Liberia could result in more disturbances in the sub-region. "While recent events in Sierra Leone may give rise to cautious optimism, the fighting in northern Liberia is intensifying and could lead to a serious political and humanitarian crisis which has already led to new and increased flows of refugees and displaced persons," he writes.

Noting that so far the contributions received for the UN consolidated appeal for West Africa amount to only 8 per cent, the Secretary-General urges the international community to make money available to UNHCR, other UN agencies and programmes, and non-governmental organizations, to assist in the protection, relocation and return of refugees and displaced persons.