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UNHCR concerned about the fate of five nurses

The office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said on Friday it remained very concerned about the fate of five nurses taken hostage by the rebel Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) on 20 June.

The nurses, who were working for a local non-governmental organisation, MERCI, were taken along with the NGO's ambulance during an attack on Sinje refugee camp, 80 km northwest of Liberia's capital, Monrovia.

UNHCR was also increasingly concerned about thousands of Sierra Leonean refugees and displaced Liberians who fled Sinje camp in the wake of the attack, spokesman Kris Janowski told a media briefing in Geneva on Friday.

Sinje had housed some 24,000 people before the attack, Janowski said, noting that current heavy rains in the region meant that the condition of those remaining in the bush was almost certainly deteriorating. Some refugees who had been housed in Sinje had managed to reach Sierra Leone while others had gone to other refugee camps around Monrovia. "They are famished, sick and exhausted from walking long distances," Janowski said. "They said some were too weak or wounded to manage the trek." Some 3,800 refugees from Sinje had been registered in camps around Monrovia since the attack, he added.

While fewer Liberian refugees and Sierra Leonean returnees entered Sierra Leone via the main Gendema crossing point in recent days, the number of Liberian refugees entering in Sierra Leone's eastern district of Kailahun continued to increase. "Together with district authorities, we estimate that there are some 10,000 Liberians currently residing in Kailahun, mainly living among local communities," the UNHCR spokesman said.

In response to concern by the local authorities over Liberian refugees remaining in the border areas, UNHCR's team in Kailahun started a new information and sensitisation campaign to encourage the refugees to relocate to camps farther inland. The exercise would go on for the next two weeks, Janowski said. On Thursday the agency transferred 178 Liberian refugees from the border to refugee camps in Sierra Leone's southern district of Bo.

Guinea had also received new Liberian refugees in July, with more than 1,500 arriving in the past two weeks, Janowski added. There were now more Liberians than Sierra Leoneans in refugee camps in Guinea, he said.

Meanwhile, the voluntary repatriation of Sierra Leonean refugees from Guinea has remained on hold since the last convoy left on June 27. The suspension was necessary to allow UNHCR Sierra Leone to focus its limited trucking capacity on transferring the thousands of Liberian refugees crossing the border, he said.

In all, nearly 80,000 Liberians have fled to neighbouring countries since the beginning of the year.

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:

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