The Government of Liberia on Wednesday barred hundreds of Sierra Leonean citizens from entering the country at the Bo Water Side border post because they did not have 'traveling documents' that could have allowed them to do so.
However, the Sierra Leoneans interviewed said they were residing in Liberia and recently returned to Sierra Leone to cast their votes in the country's presidential and general elections on March 7.
Authorities at the Liberia Immigration Service (LIS) told the Daily Observer on yesterday that the returning Sierra Leoneans did not have travel documents and therefore they could not allow them to enter Liberia.
LIS Commissioner, Lemuel Reeves, said only 566 persons were granted free passage to return to Sierra Leone, but afterward realized that upon their return the number had surpassed 1,000 individuals--most of them women, babies and small children.
"Our officers recorded 566 persons who had gone to take part in the voting, but we realized after the voting exercises over one thousand came to crossover to Liberia," he said, "unfortunately too, many of those prevented did not even have traveling documents."
"So we could not allow them into the country without proper documentation. I was at Bo Waterside to ensure that this did not happen. Only those who had travel documents were allowed."
It is believed that those prevented were relatives of people who had been granted "free passage."
"We understand that Sierra Leoneans who are residing here wanted to have used this means to bring in their relatives from across the border. We are all Africans and members of ECOWAS and MRU, but issues of terrorism and drugs are getting rampant and we need to be careful. So we have to know who is entering this country," Commissioner Reeves said.
He indicated that those who came did not even have Laissez Passez to even substantiate that they are even Sierra Leoneans.
Commissioner Reeves' version of the incident contradicted social media reports that the Liberian government had closed its borders with Sierra Leone.
"We didn't close the borders as being speculated by some, mostly Sierra Leoneans, on social media and other outlets," he clarified, adding, "they wanted to force their way in after being denied entrance and that's how we stopped the process. But some of their people went on social media, lying that we had closed the borders. That is not true."
"They don't have any travel documents, you don't cross borders just like that, they want to come into this country freely, it is our job to make sure that the wrong people do not enter this country," he said.
However, there were reports that between 20 and 50 buses were waiting on the Liberian side of the border to transport the Sierra Leoneans to Monrovia.
It may be recalled that recently, large numbers of illegal Ghanaian immigrants were reported to have entered the country via Toe Town, Grand Gedeh County's border with the Ivory Coast. Many of those, it is being reported are now venturing into alluvial mining in various parts of the country.
"This is worrisome for us. We just saw a similar situation in Grand Gedeh so we have to be careful," Commissioner Reeves said yesterday.
"After we granted them the free passage, it is unfortunate that some of them went to get their families in and this is unacceptable. With that huge number upon their return, we knew something was wrong and it didn't make sense," he said.