About one thousand three hundred and eighty ex- Sierra Leonean refugees on Saturday entered the circle of obtaining the Liberian citizenship through an arrangement between the UNHCR and the Government of Liberia.
During a program held at Blamassee Camp in Virginia outside Monrovia, Sierra Leonean passports were given to the refugees as the beginning of the process of obtaining the Liberian passports.
“That is part of the process of moving towards a solution to obtaining the Liberian passports.” Wallace Quaye, Field Officer Region I/LRRRC, said.
Sierra Leonean refugees started coming to Liberia from 1991 to 1998. A total of one hundred and twenty thousand refugees fled to Liberia due to political and military instability in Sierra Leone.
According to Momolu Freeman, reintegration Officer Region I/LRRC who spoke at the program, being that the host country Liberia experienced war in June 2003, over 37 thousand refugees repatriated continuously, while some four thousands one hundred and eighteen were assisted by UNHCR to return in Sierra Leone.
“By the end of 2003, some thirteen thousands and nine hundred refugees were verified in UNHCR data base, and resided in camps in Samuka Town, VOA and Banjor. At the official close of voluntary repatriation exercise in June 2004, some three thousand five hundred sixty four residues Sierra Leonean refugees were verified in Liberia by both UNHCR and LRRC. In preparation for the local integration of refugees according to UNHCR policy, a profaned excise was conducted in October 2006 in which two thousand one hundred and fifty five refugees participated, of which 69% opted for naturalization, 31% opted for resident alien status.” He said.
The LRRRC’s Program Officer added that the UNHCR is considering local integration for all residues Sierra Leoneans as the only available durable solution. The local integration program has two major components; the legal aspect and the social aspect that comprises the social, health and education programs. Mostly the difficult aspect of the local integration process is to find lands for those who are to be integrated. The hospitality of Liberians made that aspect easier for the Government.
According to Momolu Freeman, 352.1 hectares is acquired in Montserado County as well as in Grand Cape Mount County. “In Bomi and Bong Counties, LRRC has been offered one hundred hectares of land to this project. Locals and refugees are living in 82 housing units in Local Village Bensenville, while 150 housing units in Blamassee. 182 housing units are completed and occupied in Sinje Grand Cape. MOU: extension of schools, clinics, roads, markets. 1338 of SL refugees have already been locally integrated.” He said.
Speaking at the program, UNHCR Director of Africa Bureau and the Regional Representative for West Africa Mission, George Okoth-OBBO, who is on a week long assessment visit in Liberia, emphasized that Sierra Leoneans are no more refugees. “Sierra Leoneans, you are no more refuges but members of this community.” He said.
The UNHCR Africa Bureau Director thanked the local population which according to him played a very significant role in making the goal of the UNHCR achievable. “For the local community we say big thank. The land is an important thing but the greatest thing you have put at the disposal of these brothers and sisters of yours, the greatest thing that you and the people and government of Liberia have given to the people of Sierra Leone is life, humanity and solidarity. This is the most important thing you have given to them because even in Africa today it can no longer be taken for granted. We see many places where there is intolerance, there is fear, there is hatred of foreigners and in some places the ability to be present in the communities of other nations is not possible. So you have done great, you have done something which cannot be taken for granted.” He said.
The beneficiaries of this entire process are the Ex-Sierra Leonean refugees. Though they were very appreciative of efforts made so far by the UNHCR for their integration, they underlined some problems that are faced with. “We have a clinic at our integration site but unfortunately all of the workers live outstation, which makes it difficult for them to attend critical medical cases at night. We are appealing for an extension of the five years allotted for scholarship for our integrated children to ten years at all levels. We are appreciative of the houses assigned to us, we are begging for an improvement in their capacity as they were given to us without furniture and mattresses, besides, they were poorly constructed.” Allison Samu, Secretary General of the Sierra Leonean Refugees’ Welfare Committee said.
In response, the UNHCR Director of Africa Bureau and the Regional Representative for West Africa Mission said; “What we are trying to do is opportunity, not the solution to all your problems but opportunity.”
George Okoth-OBBO however added that he is going back to Geneva where he will tell everyone that there are still problems to solve. “When I return to our headquarters and say even if we have accomplished a lot, there are really still problems. The refugees are not being insincere, they are being opportunists, they are not telling a lie, and they are telling the truth. We must and we shall work the best way we can to try to address as many of those problems.” He ended.