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Thousands more flee to Sierra Leone

An estimated 4,000 people have fled to Sierra Leone from Liberia following a rebel attack last Thursday on Sinje refugee camp, northwest of the Liberian capital, Monrovia, the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said.

On Sunday alone, almost 1,400 people - a mix of Liberians and Sierra Leoneans - crossed into Sierra Leone, the agency said in a statement on Monday. More were reported to be on their way, and large numbers had also arrived in Monrovia, it said. So far, about 100 Sierra Leonean refugees and internally displaced Liberians had been relocated to one of UNHCR's five camps near Monrovia.

Thousands more were still believed to be hiding without resources in the forest and were at risk of being stopped and harassed by armed forces, UNHCR said. In Sierra Leone, new arrivals were being hosted in a makeshift camp in the border locality of Gendema before being transferred to the Zimmi, farther inland. On Saturday, gunfire was heard on the Liberian side of the border, causing panic among 1,200 new arrivals in Zimmi.

The makeshift camp was said to hold more than 2,000 people, UNHCR reported. UNHCR started transferring the new arrivals from Gendema to Zimmi on June 21. Sick people and other vulnerable persons were being taken by UNHCR nurses to a mobile clinic run by Medecins sans Frontieres in Gendema, the agency said.

"The situation in Liberia, already quite difficult, has now worsened dramatically, putting at risk both Sierra Leone refugees and the local population," UNHCR's Africa Director, David Lambo, was reported as saying. The agency reported former residents of the Sinje camp who made their way to Monrovia and Sierra Leone as saying the camp had been looted and stripped of everything of value. "It was not clear who controlled the area around the camp on Monday," UNHCR said. It reiterated its appeal for the immediate release of five nurses who were abducted by rebels of Liberians United for Reconciliation and Development (LURD) in a UNCHR ambulance. The nurses had been working for a local NGO providing medical care in Sinje.

There had been no contact with them since Saturday UNHCR said. LURD spokesman Charles Bennie said he could neither confirm nor deny that the nurses had been kidnapped by LURD troops. "But if they are in the hands of our troops then I can promise you they are secure," he told IRIN on Monday. "They could only face problems in getting food and medicines. I believe our troops did not abduct them but they might have run to where our troops were in the confusion of the intense fighting," Bennie said.

Aid workers contacted by IRIN in Monrovia said on Tuesday the humanitarian situation was "grim", but NGOs and UN agencies were trying their best to deliver relief. "We are looking at the situation and doing something about it," an aid worker said.

"It has, however, become so hard to define who a displaced person is since most of the population has been displaced five to six times over the years," he added. "Their living conditions are same as those of the freshly displaced and they need help."

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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