UNHCR launches verification exercise in Sierra Leone

News Stories, 2 June 2005

© UNHCR/S.Momodu
UNHCR staff checking the ration cards of refugees in Tobanda camp, Sierra Leone.

KENEMA, Sierra Leone, June 2 (UNHCR) The UN refugee agency has started a verification exercise in Sierra Leone's camps to update refugee numbers in the country amid the ongoing repatriation to Liberia, and to assess the needs of those who remain.

The exercise involves all eight camps in Sierra Leone and is organised by UNHCR, the National Commission for Social Action (NaCSA), the World Food Programme and various implementing partners.

On Monday, more than 400 trained verifiers checked the photographs on ration cards against the refugees in person. Refugees whose photographs were unrecognizable or who were absent on Monday were verified the following day. The team has also started going door to door to count the number of refugees living in each house and check if some of the houses are in fact occupied. Addresses on the ration cards will be updated accordingly. The whole process will last a month in order to give all refugees the chance to be verified.

According to Ibrahima Coly, who heads the UNHCR office in Kenema, the verification is going smoothly and the cooperation between partners and refugees has been impressive.

This is not surprising, considering how much planning has gone into the exercise. Before it started this week, UNHCR and its implementing partner, Talking Drum, carried out an information campaign in all the camps to prepare the refugees for the exercise. UNHCR also organised a radio discussion that was broadcast on most local radio stations in the country.

Verifiers and supervisors from camp managements and the relevant agencies were trained for the verification exercise, and a simulation exercise was conducted in Jembe and Gondama camps on May 25.

Sangay Konneh in Tobanda camp said that when she presented her ration card and her face was not easily recognizable, she was referred for further verification. "My ration card was taken and when checked on the computer, my face was there, together with my dependant, so my card was verified and validated."

Another refugee, Massah Matoe, made sure she was home when the verifiers came knocking. "We were earlier informed to be at home on May 30 with our ration cards so when the team came to my house, they checked my face against the face on the ration card and it was verified and accepted."

UNHCR is currently assisting more than 48,000 refugees in Sierra Leone's camps. Some 5,000 Liberian refugees have returned home in the ongoing facilitated voluntary repatriation that started last October.

By Sulaiman Momodu
UNHCR Sierra Leone