Liberian town sets aside land for local integration of Sierra Leoneans

A town in northern Liberia sets aside land for the construction of 60 houses for Sierra Leonean refugees, giving a boost to efforts aimed at local integration.

Refugees from Sierra Leone at a camp near Monrovia. Most refugees have gone home, but UNHCR is helping the government to provide shelter for some 3,500 Sierra Leoneans who wanted to remain in the country.   © UNHCR/B.Heger

MONROVIA, Liberia, August 20 (UNHCR) - A town in northern Liberia has set aside land for the construction of 60 houses for Sierra Leonean refugees, giving a boost to efforts aimed at integrating some 3,500 people who want to remain in the country.

The people of Memeh, which is located near the national capital of Monrovia, agreed to hand over 28 acres of land for the housing under a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed on Monday with the state-run Liberia Refugee Repatriation and Resettlement Commission (LRRRC).

The 60 houses to be built on the land will accommodate 48 refugee families and 12 vulnerable Liberian families in the area, or about 300 people.

Under Monday's MOU, the UN refugee agency and the LRRRC will support agriculture-related activities, expand the local primary school and help establish a health centre as well as water and sanitation projects. Project contractors will hire people locally.

UNHCR Representative in Liberia Renata Dubini thanked the people of Memeh for providing the land and supporting the local integration process. "We remain committed to mobilizing additional funds in 2009 to meet the terms of the MOU," she said.

LRRRC Executive Director Wheatonia Dixon Barnes stressed that the government was committed to honouring its obligations under the MOU.

The construction of the houses is part of plans to provide permanent accommodation for more than 3,500 Sierra Leonean refugees who have opted for local integration since the end of UNHCR's voluntary repatriation programme.

A first batch of 32 houses has been rehabilitated in nearby Bensonville for 16 refugee families and 16 vulnerable local families. These families, comprising some 160 people, will soon occupy their new homes.

During the height of the 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 Leonean refugees returned home and many others returned 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 Tom Winston Monboe in Monrovia, Liberia