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Children's parliament in Liberia grapples with return issues

Children's parliament in Liberia grapples with return issues

West Africa's refugee children got together recently in Monrovia at the Liberian Children's Parliament to swap experiences of exile and return. But top of their agenda was finding solutions for child-specific problems that crop up with repatriation and reintegration.
8 June 2004
Sierra Leonean refugees and Liberian returnees share experiences of exile and return at the Children's Parliamentary meeting in Monrovia.

MONROVIA, Liberia, June 8 (UNHCR) - Refugee children from Sierra Leone recently got together with Liberian child returnees to discuss future repatriation and reintegration activities specific to children amid mass movements in the region.

In West Africa, huge repatriation programmes are currently underway or planned for Sierra Leonean and Liberian refugees scattered throughout the region. Many of them will be children. UNHCR's voluntary repatriation programme for Sierra Leoneans finishes on June 30 this year, while the organised return of Liberian refugees is due to start in October.

At an enthusiastic session of the Liberian Children's Parliament last weekend, some 100 children from the community and from refugee camps gathered at the Gender Ministry in Monrovia to discuss their future plans. The forum was chaired by Patient, the 13-year-old president of the Liberian Children's Parliament.

After a general introduction, the children split into five working groups to discuss in greater detail such thorny issues as repatriation, reintegration and family reunification.

Children born in exile often go home to a country they do not know and family members they have never met. Many of them speak with the accents of their adopted country.

In the workshops, the refugee children shared their experience with Liberian children who had just come back home from refugee camps in Sierra Leone, giving each other encouragement and support. Together they came up with solutions to their common problems.

The children produced a draft resolution outlining measures for the safe and dignified return of refugee children to their home countries, reunification of unaccompanied children and reintegration activities to empower families within the community.

They also proposed establishing recreational facilities, abolishing traditional practices like female genital mutilation and early marriage, and promoting safe and organised repatriation.

The draft resolution called on the government to create and reinforce measures that would protect and support children in difficult circumstances. It will be officially adopted on June 16 to commemorate the Day of Children and serve as a prelude to World Refugee Day on June 20.

This year's World Refugee Day theme, "A Place to Call Home", is very apt for the Sierra Leonean child refugees who clearly stated in the resolution that they wish to go home soon and start a new life, like their Liberian friends are doing after 14 years of war.

The Liberian Children's Parliament was established in 2002 following a UN Special Session on Children in which member countries were called on to set up a Children's Parliament to articulate children's views and take them into account when policy is being made.

Before this parliamentary discussion, UNHCR held an awareness session with the children, looking at the definition of refugees and returnees, repatriation and reintegration, and the role and mandate of the refugee agency.

The discussion was part of the activities for World Refugee Day.