UNHCR concerned for safety of Sierra Leonean refugees in Liberia

UNHCR concerned for safety of Sierra Leonean refugees in Liberia

Sierra Leonean refugees in Liberia's Sinje camp
The United Nations refugee agency today voiced concern over the plight of Sierra Leonean refugees in Liberia, where tensions have been rising amid reports of clashes among armed groups.

“The refugees, like many Liberians, are caught up in an unpredictable situation with some camps situated near conflict zones and refugees getting increasingly nervous,” said Delphine Marie, a spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

Two of the agency’s refugee camps in Liberia have been cut off to all humanitarian aid for more than two weeks now. “We can only maintain radio contact to the refugees thanks to a generator now running short of fuel,” Ms. Marie told the press in Geneva. She said the agency hoped to meet with representatives from the camp shortly.

According to UNHCR, fierce fighting was reported over the weekend in the Grand Cape Mount County and several other regions. “Calm had returned by Monday, but the situation remains unpredictable,” said Ms. Marie.

UNHCR’s camps in Sinje “receive frequent visits from pro-government groups allegedly looking for dissidents, which makes the refugees very uncomfortable,” she added. In addition to housing 11,000 refugees, the camps are reportedly crowded due to the presence of some 8,000 displaced Liberians.

Roadblocks and heavily armed patrols are visible in the vicinity of the capital, Monrovia, adding to the tension among the 5,000 refugees at the camp of Samukai, situated on a strategic route leading to Gbarnga, which was the scene of heavy fighting two weeks ago, UNHCR said.

Liberia hosts 39,000 Sierra Leonean refugees registered in six UNHCR camps, plus an estimated 15,000 living outside camps, according to agency statistics. Some 18,000 have returned to Sierra Leone in 2002, including 11,000 through UNHCR repatriation convoys and 7,000 on their own.