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Refugee All Stars remember their roots as they start to hit the big time

News Stories, 5 December 2006

© UNHCR/B.Bashmani
Sierra Leone's Refugee All Stars launch their mini-European tour in London on Monday night.

LONDON, United Kingdom, December 5 (UNHCR) The Refugee All Stars are in great demand these days, but the group of Sierra Leonean musicians had not forgotten their pasts when they kicked off a small European tour in London this week.

"We're at our happiest when we're performing in front of a crowd. Our goal is not just to entertain, but also to educate. We want to tell people our story and the story of other millions of refugees around the world," lead vocalist Reuben M. Koroma told UNHCR before Monday's concert at the Carling Academy Islington.

That same night the group's appearance on the Oprah Winfrey Show, a bellwether for success in the entertainment world, was aired. They played a song from their new CD and discussed their flight from the bloody conflict in Sierra Leone, which only ended in 2002.

The Refugee All Stars have also recently supported the legendary American rockers, Aerosmith, while another of their songs "Ankala" is featured in the Leonardo di Caprio movie, "Blood Diamond," which opens later this week. A documentary about the group formally known as Sierra Leone's Refugee All Stars continues to pick up awards and pack in audiences in Europe and America.

Monday's concert was an opportunity to bask in the music an African version of reggae and rap and remember the millions of refugees who still suffer as the All Stars once did. The audience of around 100 people danced in the aisles during most of the energetic two-hour set, the first London gig for the band formed in a refugee camp in Guinea in the late 1990s.

Through the music, the seven touring members of the band shared their harrowing journey from fleeing persecution to living in camps and finally going back home. They also wanted to share a message of global peace and to show support for UNHCR's Ninemillion.org campaign.

UNHCR staff were present at the concert to help raise awareness of the campaign, which aims to give refugee children greater access to education and sports programmes. The agency volunteers distributed magazines and postcards, and collected donations. Sierra Leone's Refugee All Stars are strong supporters of the campaign, which was launched last June with backing from UNHCR corporate partners, Microsoft and Nike.

Ninemillion.org is UNHCR's entry point to the public at large as it creates an emotional connection between the world and refugees. The campaign is about putting a face on real people: the refugee children. The campaign is UNHCR's first initiative to raise awareness for the refugee cause via the web.

The Refugee All Stars announced on November 9 that they were committing themselves to helping the campaign. The band will use their new album, "Living like a Refugee," and the documentary to raise awareness and funds.

"In the refugee camps we found the most traumatised youth those who had lost family, had been maimed, or had been taken as child combatants and we focused on helping them," Koroma said in November. "In addition to music and theatre, we had the greatest success in helping them achieve a sense of normalcy through sports and basic schooling."

He said the band hoped that "Ninemillion.org can expand on these efforts to reach the millions of youth still in need."

Sierra Leone's Refugee All Stars play in Amsterdam on Tuesday; Gent in Belgium on Wednesday; Paris on Thursday and Rennes in France on Friday.

By Karen Wagstaff in London, UK

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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

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Since 2006, renewed conflict and general insecurity in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo's North Kivu province has forced some 400,000 people to flee their homes – the country's worst displacement crisis since the formal end of the civil war in 2003. In total, there are now some 800,000 people displaced in the province, including those uprooted by previous conflicts.

Hope for the future was raised in January 2008 when the DRC government and rival armed factions signed a peace accord. But the situation remains tense in North Kivu and tens of thousands of people still need help. UNHCR has opened sites for internally displaced people (IDPs) and distributed assistance such as blankets, plastic sheets, soap, jerry cans, firewood and other items to the four camps in the region. Relief items have also been delivered to some of the makeshift sites that have sprung up.

UNHCR staff have been engaged in protection monitoring to identify human rights abuses and other problems faced by IDPs and other populations at risk across North Kivu.

UNHCR's ninemillion campaign aims to provide a healthy and safe learning environment for nine million refugee children by 2010.

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UNHCR/Partners Bring Aid to North Kivu

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UNHCR aims to help 25,000 refugee children go to school in Syria by providing financial assistance to families and donating school uniforms and supplies.

There are some 1.4 million Iraqi refugees living in Syria, most having fled the extreme sectarian violence sparked by the bombing of the Golden Mosque of Samarra in 2006.

Many Iraqi refugee parents regard education as a top priority, equal in importance to security. While in Iraq, violence and displacement made it difficult for refugee children to attend school with any regularity and many fell behind. Although education is free in Syria, fees associated with uniforms, supplies and transportation make attending school impossible. And far too many refugee children have to work to support their families instead of attending school.

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UNHCR's ninemillion campaign aims to provide a healthy and safe learning environment for nine million refugee children by 2010.

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