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Sierra Leonean refugees relocate to new houses in Liberia

News Stories, 22 September 2008

© UNHCR/T.W.Monboe
Some of the Sierra Leoneans getting off one of the UNHCR buses on arrival at Bensonville.

MONROVIA, Liberia, September 22 (UNHCR) A group of 16 refugee families have moved into rehabilitated houses in the Liberian town of Bensonville as part of a process to locally integrate some 3,500 Sierra Leoneans who cannot go home or are unwilling to repatriate.

"We are delighted to move into our new community in Bensonville and these beautiful, standardized buildings after living in makeshift shelters for more than a decade," said sexagenarian Musa Kamara, one of 118 people who moved to their new homes on Saturday from the Banjor and Samukai camps. Thirty-two houses have been renovated at Bensonville with UNHCR funding.

Some of the refugees had spent their last morning of camp life in demolishing their old camp homes to deter squatters from moving in. Others loaded their belongings onto UNHCR trucks for the 60-kilometre journey to Bensonville, capital of Liberia's Montserrado County.

A rain shower did nothing to dampen their enthusiasm. They received a warm welcome in Bensonville, where locals sang, leaped and danced as the trucks rolled in. "This makes me determined to contribute to the development of this new community where the future of my children will be forged," said mother-of-six Umu Kumakoi as she inspected her new home.

UNHCR Senior Protection Officer Sharon Cooper told the Sierra Leoneans to no longer consider themselves as refugees. She said they were now on the road to becoming permanent Liberian citizens and should work in harmony with locals to develop their new community.

A Sierra Leonean diplomat attending Saturday's welcome ceremony said he was happy that the local integration process was moving forward for this group of people. He also noted that Liberia's late President William Tolbert had come from the area and that he was a close friend of the late Sierra Leonean leader, Siaka Stevens. "It is the continuation of that bond of friendship," Mohamed Alusine Sesay said.

As part of the local integration process, a further 110 houses are under construction, including 50 in Bensonville and 60 in the nearby town of Memeh.

During the height of the 1991-2002 conflict in Sierra Leone as many as 2 million of the country's 6 million people were displaced, with some 490,000 fleeing to Liberia and Guinea. Under UNHCR's voluntary repatriation operation from September 2000 to July 2004, more than 179,000 Sierra Leoneans returned home. Many others went back by their own means.

Last June, UNHCR announced that as of the end of this year Sierra Leoneans who fled their country in the 1990s will no longer be considered refugees since the root causes of the refugee problem in Sierra Leone no longer exist. The decision was based on fundamental and positive durable changes in Sierra Leone since a peace agreement was declared in January 2002.

By Oscar Nkulu in Monrovia, Liberia




UNHCR country pages

Refugees move to new camp in Liberia

UNHCR has begun transferring refugees from Côte d'Ivoire to a new refugee camp in the north-eastern Liberian town of Bahn. Over the coming weeks UNHCR hopes to move up to 15,000 refugees into the facility, which has been carved out of the jungle. They are among almost 40,000 civilians from Côte d'Ivoire who have fled to escape mounting political tension in their country since the presidential election in late November.

The final number of people to move to Bahn will depend on how many wish to be relocated.from villages near the Liberia-Côte d'Ivoire border. Initially most of the refugees were taken in by host communities, living side-by-side with locals. Poor road conditions made it difficult for humanitarian agencies to deliver assistance. Supplies of food, medicine and water have been running low, making conditions difficult for both locals and refugees.

At the camp in Bahn, refugees will have easy access to basic services such as health care, clean water and primary school education.

Refugees move to new camp in Liberia

New flows of Ivorian refugees into Liberia

As of late March, more than 100,000 Ivorian refugees had crossed into eastern Liberia since lingering political tension from a disputed presidential election in neighbouring Côte d' Ivoire erupted into violence in February. Most have gone to Liberia's Nimba County, but in a sign that the fighting has shifted, some 6,000 Ivorians recently fled across the border into Liberia's Grand Gedeh County. Most of the new arrivals have settled in remote villages - some inaccessible by car. The UN refugee agency sent a mission to assess the needs of the refugees in the region.

Photographer Glenna Gordon photographed new arrivals near Zwedru in south-eastern Liberia.

New flows of Ivorian refugees into Liberia

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

Liberia: A Neighbour's HelpPlay video

Liberia: A Neighbour's Help

Alphonse Gonglegbe fled to Liberia with his family a few months ago. He appreciates the help he's been receiving in this land neighbouring his native Côte d'Ivoire.
Liberia: Hurried FlightPlay video

Liberia: Hurried Flight

Tens of thousands of Ivorians have fled their villages and sought shelter in Liberia. Francis says he ran for his life and now he wants safety and food.
Liberia: Settling InPlay video

Liberia: Settling In

A dozen new shelters are built every day in Liberia's Bahn refugee camp. Eventually there will be 3,000 shelters for some of the many civilians who have fled from neighbouring Côte d'Ivoire.