Second group of Sierra Leone returnees from Liberia arriving via ship, UN agency says
A second boat carrying more than 300 Sierra Leoneans returning from Liberia was expected in Freetown today as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) continued its repatriation effort by sea after land access was cut off due to fighting.
The latest arrivals bring to 586 the number of refugees brought back to Sierra Leone since the beginning of the sea operation last week, a UNHCR spokesman said in Geneva. The ship is scheduled to run a twice-weekly shuttle, which should allow an average of 600 Sierra Leonean returns weekly.
As was the case with the 285 arrivals on Monday, most of the returnees are former refugees from the Sinje camp in Liberia who fled to Monrovia after a rebel attack on 20 June, spokesman Peter Kessler said. UNHCR has travelled to various places around the Liberian capital where those who escaped the attack are now sheltering and giving the former Sinje refugees first priority for return.
Some 4,500 Sierra Leoneans have so far registered in Monrovia for repatriation by ship. Since September 2000, UNHCR has facilitated the return of over 100,000 Sierra Leoneans from Guinea and Liberia.
Meanwhile, Sierra Leone is also facing an influx of more than 50,000 Liberian refugees and returnees, as they continue entering the country on foot at a rate of about 1,000 per week, according to Mr. Kessler. Refugees also arrive in small numbers through unofficial entry points.