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UNHCR Briefing Notes: Chechnya, Eritrea/Sudan, Sierra Leone

This is a summary of what was said by the UNHCR spokesperson at today's press briefing at the Palais des Nations. Quoted text from this briefing note may be attributed to the UNHCR spokesperson named below
Kris Janowski

1. Chechnya

Heavy fighting around Grozny is pushing more people out of Chechnya. More than 8,000 people have fled to Ingushetia over the past four days. On Monday alone, over 2,000 people crossed the border with Ingushetia. There is also continued movement of the displaced back into northern Chechnya which is controlled by Russian federal troops. However, over the past few days twice as many people have left Chechnya as have gone back.

The medical shape of the displaced in Ingushetia is worsening with reports of more cases of tuberculosis, respiratory disease and other health problems. While tuberculosis is endemic in both Chechnya and Ingushetia, its presence in places of collective accommodation poses a greater than usual risk. UNHCR and its partner agencies are looking at the option of setting up prefabricated housing for people with open TB to improve their living conditions and prevent the spread of the disease.

On Tuesday the 25th UNHCR convoy arrived in Ingushetia's capital Nazran, bringing food and other supplies from UNHCR, Action Contre la Faim, and the Salvation Army. This brings the total tonnage of aid delivered to Ingushetia by UNHCR to more than 3,700 metric tonnes.

2. Eritrea

UNHCR and the Eritrean authorities agreed on Monday that UNHCR will resume its work in Eritrea after being absent for more than two and a half years.

During meetings of Eritrea's President Esais Afwerki and other Eritrean officials with visiting UNHCR Assistant High Commissioner Soren Jessen-Petersen, it was agreed that UNHCR will focus on the voluntary repatriation of some 147,000 Eritreans registered in refugee camps in eastern Sudan. Two UNHCR staff will travel to Eritrea next month to work with the authorities on a repatriation plan. More UNHCR staff will follow. The return plan and the pace of the repatriation will be determined by Eritrea's reception capacity.

UNHCR international staff were expelled from Eritrea in May of 1997 over what Eritrea at the time saw as UNHCR's undue pressure on reviving the stalemated repatriation of Eritrean refugees from eastern Sudan.

The new agreement could lead to a breakthrough on the repatriation issue, allowing Eritreans from Sudan to go home after more than 10 years in exile.

3. Sierra Leone

Since late Monday, the UNHCR regional office for West Africa in Abidjan has been receiving persistent reports from local NGOs in Sierra Leone of a "massive" spontaneous return of Sierra Leonean refugees from the camps of Gueckedou in Guinea. No numbers are available at this stage. The reports were difficult to confirm immediately. UNHCR has presence in Sierra Leone's capital Freetown but we have no staff in the areas abutting Guinea. UNHCR staff in Gueckedou are now trying to check out the reports.

Guinea currently hosts 305,000 Sierra Leonean refugees and 66,000 Liberian refugees in the Gueckedou area.

This document is intended for public information purposes only. It is not an official UN document.