This is a summary of what was said by the UNHCR spokesperson at today's Palais des Nations press briefing in Geneva. Further information can be found on the UNHCR website, www.unhcr.ch, which should also be checked for regular media updates on non-briefing days.
As the situation in Liberia descended into chaos over the weekend, UNHCR evacuated its three remaining international staff yesterday with the help of French troops stationed on a ship off the coast. The vessel is due in Abidjan this evening or tomorrow morning. Meanwhile, we remain extremely concerned about our 33 national staff and their families living in Monrovia, as well as over the fate of some 15,000 Sierra Leonean refugees in the Monrovia area. Those refugees had been living in camps around the Liberian capital prior to the latest fighting.
Refugees who managed to cross the front line on the outskirts of Monrovia are believed to be among the tens of thousands of displaced Liberians who converged on the capital in search of safety as fighting raged on Friday and part of Saturday. On Saturday, the government advised the displaced to regroup at the National Stadium, where efforts would be made to provide them with security and assistance. As fighting died down, others were able to return to their homes on Saturday evening. But the fate of refugees still behind rebel lines is unknown.
The eastern part of Liberia remains a major concern for us. For the past few weeks, UNHCR has had no access in the region to Ivorian refugees and Liberian returnees who had fled the conflict in Côte d'Ivoire. Some 23,000 Liberians have also fled back into Côte d'Ivoire over the past two weeks.
UNHCR supports the ECOWAS-led negotiations in Akossombo, Ghana, and urges the government of Liberia as well as leaders of different factions to come to an agreement for a peaceful solution to the crisis. This is the only way to stop the suffering of the Liberian people.
2) CENTRAL AFRICAN REPUBLIC
Central African Republic (CAR) refugees in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) have started going home with the help of UNHCR. The return operation kicked off yesterday morning (Monday 9 June) with 275 CAR refugees from Mole camp, 34 kms from the city of Zongo in DRC's Equateur Province. The returnees were ferried across the Ubangui River to Bangui, the capital of CAR, aboard boats chartered by UNHCR.
By the end of the eight-day return operation, nearly all Mole camp's population of 2,800 CAR refugees are expected to have repatriated. So far, more than 2,600 have said they will return home this week. The journey home marks the end of two years of exile. Most will be returning to destroyed homes and will need help to settle. UNHCR is providing each refugee family with a reintegration package that includes kitchen sets, jerrycans, blankets and mats, all of it distributed in the camp prior to their departure. Refugee families also receive seeds, fishing nets and agricultural tools. In addition, upon arrival they are given a three-month WFP food ration.
Mole camp refugees, who are mostly relatives of the mutineers of the failed coup of May 2001, have been eager to return since mid-March, following the change in regime in Bangui. They are the remainder of the some 26,000 Bangui residents who had sought refugee in DRC.