ABIDJAN, 17 March (IRIN) - The recent
upsurge of fighting in Liberia has had a tremendous impact in Sierra Leone,
especially in border areas where an already overburdened host population
could face food shortages due to a large refugee presence, the UN Office
for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reported.
Should the fighting continue, an estimated 17,000 more Liberian refugees could cross into Sierra Leone over the next few weeks, adding to the 46,317 already in seven Sierra Leonean refugee camps as at the end of February, OCHA said. The refugees in the camps, it added, were reported to be in poor health, especially lactating mothers, pregnant women and children.
Some 400 Ghanaians who fled fighting in Robertsport, western Liberia, had also arrived in the Sierra Leonean village of Sulima. "The Ghanaians are not willing to be relocated for economic reasons as most of them are fishermen," OCHA said. Fourteen who solicited UNHCR protection, had however, been relocated.
"WFP reports that food supplies remain low at the border areas, with refugees living off the supplies of the host community," OCHA said on Friday in its February situation report. "Although the host communities have offered them farmland in almost all the camps, the refugees lack tools and seeds to undertake farming activities. Also, the lack of appropriate water and sanitation facilities in these areas may cause outbreaks of disease and possibly epidemics if the refugees are not relocated soon."
OCHA said the Sierra Leone army and the UN Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) had reinforced their troops with heavy weapons along major border areas to forestall cross-border raids by Liberian rebels. Some 240 Liberian soldiers, it added, had surrendered with their ammunition to the Sierra Leonean army at various border crossing points.
OCHA also reported that an accelerated repatriation plan for Sierra Leonean refugees in Guinea had been agreed upon by UNHCR. "The convoys through Kambia will increase from 750 people per week to 1,500 a week," it said. "As of mid-March, UNHCR hopes to have completed the building of a bridge and road improvements to repatriate refugees through the Languette region [Guinea]directly into the Kailahun District [in northeastern Sierra Leone]. Convoys of up to 350 will operate through this route every other day."
UNHCR, in collaboration with the International Organisation on Migration (IOM), has started repatriating Sierra Leonean refugees by air from Cote d'Ivoire and Liberia. "Some 648 Sierra Leonean refugees have registered to be airlifted to escape the horrors of civil war in Liberia," OCHA said. "An average of 30 refugees will be airlifted twice weekly and the operation would last approximately two months."
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