Sierra Leonean refugees in Guinea advised on end of their status
CONAKRY, Guinea, July 29 (UNHCR) - Over the past week the UNHCR operation in Guinea embarked on a campaign informing Sierra Leonean refugees on the upcoming cessation of their refugee status and its implications.
The UN refugee agency announced last month that as of the end of the year, Siera Leoneons who fled their country during civil war in the early 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.
During the height of the conflict 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.
The information campaigns were organized together with the Guinean central and local authorities and are focused on the former Boreah and Kountaya camps, which host 600 and 366 refugees respectively. The aim is to provide clear and objective information on the implications of the cessation of an individual's refugee status and to enable them to make decisions about their future.
"The decision to end refugee status for Sierra Leoneans was taken in consultation with the international community, the human rights organizations as well as the country of origin," said Dillah Doumaye, UNHCR representative in Guinea. "This decision took in to consideration the efforts by the international community to restore peace and stability - such as the deployment in 1999 of UNAMSIL, the Special Court for Sierra Leone and the two successful elections carried out in 2002 and 2007."
Out of some 43,000 refugees from Sierra Leone who continue to live in exile, 6,379 are registered in Guinea.
Return to Sierra Leone will remain an option for refugees after December 31, but UNHCR repatriation assistance will only be available until the end of the year. In addition to a transportation allowance, the returnees will receive a $100 cash grant per head of family and $50 per dependant.
Large-scale organized repatriation for refugee from Sierra Leone ended in July 2004.
Local integration into Guinea is the other option available to Sierra Leonean refugees, and after almost 18 years in displacement many intend to stay in the country.
"We are not happy being in the camp but some of us have tangible reasons for not choosing repatriation. Those include political, cultural and religious reasons" said Fayiah Kailly, the chairman of the refugee committee in Kountaya camp.
After 31 December 2008, Sierra Leoneans who are still in need of international protection will be able to remain in their current host country as refugees while those who do not qualify for asylum after 2008 but do not wish to return home because of family, social or economic links with the host country, will be expected to legalize their stay there.
By Faya Foko Millimouno in Conakry, Guinea