African Union Ambassadors meet refugees in Sierra Leone
FREETOWN, Sierra Leone, Sept 23 (UNHCR) - A high-level African Union delegation has completed a West African mission to see refugee situations first hand and determine what the AU can do to improve refugees' lives as part of a new plan of action in Africa.
The three-day two-nation tour started in Côte d'Ivoire, where the delegation met Liberian refugees in Guiglo, and ended on Wednesday after a visit to two camps in Sierra Leone. Among the visitors were the Mauritian Ambassador to Ethiopia, El Hassan Mohammed Ould Lebatt, the Republic of Congo's Ambassador to Ethiopia, Georges Banthoud, and UNHCR Senior Liaison Officer to the AU, Tamba Komba.
This assessment mission was the latest in a series under the AU's "New Visions" plan of action launched earlier this year to alleviate the plight of Africa's poorest citizens. Similar missions to Angola, Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda have already been completed in an attempt to let AU Ambassadors assess refugee situations for themselves.
In Sierra Leone, the delegation visited Tobanda and Gerihun camps in the east, where they met with groups of refugees and aid workers. The Liberian refugees spoke openly about their current needs, such as higher education, as well as the upcoming facilitated repatriation scheduled to begin on October 1. The group seemed quite eager to return home to Liberia as soon as possible even though they recognised that the facilities in Sierra Leone are better than what they will find at home.
In Freetown, the delegation met with President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Mohammed Lamin Kamara, as well as Kanja Sesay, the Commissioner of the National Commission for Social Action (NaCSA), UNHCR's main governmental counterpart, to convey their solidarity with the government of Sierra Leone.
While the AU stated that they could not contribute a significant amount financially, they said they are committed to advocating on behalf of refugees with donors, particularly when it comes to road improvement, which is the lifeline of any country. More importantly, the AU stated that they are dedicated to working with all of the governments in Africa to ensure sustainable peace to prevent the outbreak of further refugee crises.