UN agency steps up efforts to repatriate Sierra Leonean refugees from Guinea

UN agency steps up efforts to repatriate Sierra Leonean refugees from Guinea

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The United Nations refugee agency today said it is conducting a campaign to encourage Sierra Leoneans to go back home in an effort to step up the pace of repatriations from Guinea.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), together with Sierra Leonean government officials, is providing refugees in Guinea with first-hand details of the security situation in their homeland, to enable them to make an informed decision about repatriating. It also tells them of the UN agency and government efforts to improve education, healthcare and provide shelter for those returning to Sierra Leone.

The refugees have responded well to the campaign and many show willingness to repatriate, UNHCR said. A recent survey among some of the 35,000 Sierra Leonean refugees remaining in Guinea camps showed that up to 80 per cent were willing to return this year. Some asked for additional help such as transport of livestock and furniture.

Since the opening on 4 April of a new causeway across the Moa River that marks the border between Guinea and Sierra Leone, UNHCR has been speeding up the repatriation by taking this more direct route. The agency has also increased the frequency of convoys to six per week, each carrying 500 people.

UNHCR said it hopes to return up to 26,000 refugees before the rainy season starts, using both the new route and the less direct old Kambia route. If the current pace of returns continues, the repatriation to Sierra Leone could be completed by the end of next year.