When going home is not an option: local integration in Guinea

News Stories, 20 July 2005

© UNHCR/R.Hassouna
Sierra Leonean refugee Osmane Mansaray and his family in the classroom where his wife is a teacher's assistant in Boreah, Guinea.

CONAKRY, Guinea, July 20 (UNHCR) Ousmane Mansaray is not easily swayed. Although tens of thousands of his compatriots have gone home to Sierra Leone, he's determined to stay in exile in neighbouring Guinea.

"I don't want to go back to my country where my father was savagely assassinated in front of me," he said with tears in his eyes.

Before he was forced to flee Sierra Leone, Mansaray was a shopkeeper who bought and sold jewels. Now, he lives with his family in Boreah camp in the sub-prefecture of Albadariah in Kissidougou, southern Guinea. He farms for a living while his wife is a teacher's assistant. Their four children attend school in the camp.

Mansaray is among 2,111 Sierra Leonean refugees who stayed in Guinea after the UN refugee agency ended its voluntary repatriation operation to Sierra Leone in June last year. More than 97,000 refugees returned to Sierra Leone from Guinea through the organised movements that lasted about three-and-a-half years.

Voluntary repatriation, local integration, and resettlement to a third country are three options in UNHCR's search for durable solutions for refugees.

"I want to settle definitely in Guinea, a country that offered us hospitality. I keep up good relations with the local population, and UNHCR makes all the possible efforts to give us the assistance we need," said Mansaray.

He added, "Today, my dream is to find a piece of land where I could build my home to live with my family. All that I have today is the support of UNHCR and its partners to create an activity that generates profits which will help me to have a decent life after I settle in the village, because I want to continue living in Boreah."

To facilitate local integration for refugees who desire it, UNHCR has set up three projects in the areas of agriculture, income generation and education. This last option allows young people to go to school and benefit from intensive training in French so that they can better integrate into the local school system.

The refugee agency has also appealed to the Guinean government to regularize these refugees by giving them appropriate identification documents.

"These refugees are all citizens of countries of the ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States), so there won't be any problem in this way," the Guinean Minister of Territorial Administration and Decentralisation has said, giving the refugees a chance to obtain permanent residence and nationality.

For more than a decade, UNHCR has provided protection and assistance to almost 1 million refugees in Guinea who fled civil wars in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea-Bissau and Côte d'Ivoire.

Today, the seven refugee camps in south-eastern Guinea shelter a total of 69,197 refugees 2,111 refugees from Sierra Leone, 63,062 from Liberia and 4,024 from Côte d'Ivoire.

More than 15,000 Liberian refugees have repatriated from Guinea with UNHCR assistance since the refugee agency started facilitating returns to Liberia in October last year.

By Fatoumata Diariou Tounkara and Rahma Hassouna in Conakry, Guinea




UNHCR country pages

Sierra Leone: Last Return Convoy from Liberia

On July 21, 2004, the final UNHCR convoy from Liberia crossed over the Mano River bridge into Sierra Leone with 286 returnees. This convoy included the last of some 280,000 refugees returning home after Sierra Leone's brutal 10-year civil war which ended in 2000. Overall, since repatriation began in 2001, UNHCR has helped some 178,000 refugees return home, with a further 92,000 returning spontaneously, without transport assistance from UNHCR.

UNHCR provided returnees with food rations and various non-food items, including jerry cans, blankets, sleeping mats, soap and agricultural tools in order to help them establish their new lives in communities of origin. To promote integration of newly arrived returnees, UNHCR has implemented some 1,000 community empowerment projects nationwide. Programmes include the building and rehabilitation of schools, clinics, water and sanitation facilities, as well as micro-credit schemes and skills training.

UNHCR and its partners, alongside the UN country team and the government, will continue to assist the reintegration of returnees through the end of 2005.

Sierra Leone: Last Return Convoy from Liberia

A Place to Call Home(Part 2): 1996 - 2003

This gallery highlights the history of UNHCR's efforts to help some of the world's most disenfranchised people to find a place called home, whether through repatriation, resettlement or local integration.

After decades of hospitality after World War II, as the global political climate changed and the number of people cared for by UNHCR swelled from around one million in 1951, to more than 27 million people in the mid-1990s, the welcome mat for refugees was largely withdrawn.

Voluntary repatriation has become both the preferred and only practical solution for today's refugees. In fact, the great majority of them choose to return to their former homes, though for those who cannot do so for various reasons, resettlement in countries like the United States and Australia, and local integration within regions where they first sought asylum, remain important options.

This gallery sees Rwandans returning home after the 1994 genocide; returnees to Kosovo receiving reintegration assistance; Guatemalans obtaining land titles in Mexico; and Afghans flocking home in 2003 after decades in exile.

A Place to Call Home(Part 2): 1996 - 2003

A Place to Call Home (Part 1): 1953 - 1995

Based on the 2004 World Refugee Day theme, "A place to call home: Rebuilding lives in safety and dignity", this two-part gallery highlights the history of UNHCR's efforts to help some of the world's most disenfranchised people to find a place called home, whether through repatriation, resettlement or local integration.

In more than a half century of humanitarian work, the UN refugee agency has helped more than 50 million uprooted people across the globe to successfully restart their lives.

Following the end of World War II and in the prevailing climate of the Cold War, many refugees, including those fleeing Soviet-dominated countries or the aftermath of the conflict in Indo China, were welcomed by the countries to which they initially fled or resettled in states even further afield.

In Part 1 of the gallery, a family restarts its life in New Zealand in the 1950s after years in a German camp; Vietnamese children make their first snowman in Sweden; while two sisters rebuild their home after returning to post-war Mozambique in the early 1990s.

A Place to Call Home (Part 1): 1953 - 1995