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UN helps evacuate first group of Liberian refugees

UN helps evacuate first group of refugees from Liberia

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has begun to evacuate a first group of more than 300 Sierra Leonean refugees from strife-torn Liberia, and if the ceasefire there holds the agency says it will broaden the repatriation effort.

The evacuees, who departed on Friday, included several vulnerable refugees from among the tens of thousands of desperate Sierra Leoneans and displaced Liberians who fled to the Liberian capital of Monrovia in the wake of a rebel onslaught in early June. UNHCR says out of an estimated 15,000 Sierra Leonean refugees in the area, some 5,000 have so far indicated their desire to go home.

The agency's effort to care for those forced to flee their homes has been stymied by looting and insecurity in Liberia. After UNHCR vehicles were stolen or vandalized, the agency borrowed two trucks from the European Union to support the transport of refugees to the port.

The agency also lost stocks in all of its warehouses, which had contained tons of blankets, mattresses, kitchenware, food, medical supplies, generators and other items for up to 90,000 people. "All of it has been looted," said UNHCR spokesman Ron Redmond, adding, "We can only hope it has reached those who most need it."

Meanwhile, an increasing number of refugee arrivals from Liberia are being reported in other West African countries. Mr. Redmond appealed to governments in the region to receive these new arrivals and to recognize that "after so many years of war, just about everyone in Liberia is suffering."

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