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World Refugee Day 2002: Sierra Leone

World Refugee Day 2002: Sierra Leone

20 June 2002


A two-day football tournament organised by UNHCR ended in Bo District on 16 June with a mixed team of refugee women from Bandajuma and Gondama camps winning the trophy and members from the NGOs, Christian Children's Fund, UNAMSIL (United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone), UNOCHA and UNHCR.

World Refugee Day was celebrated with various activities including women's cultural performances and drama contests. The events in the refugee camps also included: speeches by government and UNHCR officials and prize awards. UNHCR staff was also present in all camps to deliver the World Refugee Day message of the High Commissioner.

In Freetown, a ceremony was held at the Sierra Leone National Museum on 20 June. It attracted several distinguished personalities, government officials, a cross section of the humanitarian community and Liberian refugees, and UN staff. Speeches were made by UNHCR and the Liberian Refugee Committee Chairman, Minister for Gender and Childrens' Affairs and the National Commission for Social Action. The display of photographs showing UNHCR's operations in the country, handicrafts by refugees and the showing of the video "We Were There" were the highlights of the occasion.

In Kenema District, a march was organised to commemorate World Refugee Day on 20 June with the presence of the UNAMSIL Band, which attracted hundreds of people. Refugees, mainly women from the Gerihun and Jembe Camps, participated in the march. A play entitled "Peace and Reconciliation" was performed by youths of Gerihun Camp; it demonstrated the various difficulties women go through during conflicts. The refugees in their speech appealed to the International Community to intervene and restore lasting peace in their home country, Liberia. At the Forest Industry Canteen, UNHCR held a ceremony for refugees, guests, and staff.

In Kono District, the celebration activities were organised in close collaboration with the Reproductive Health Group (RHG), an NGO supported by UNHCR. The ceremony started with a march and ended at the Tankoro Native Administration, the venue for the hundreds of invited dignitaries, NGOs, paramount chiefs, senior civil servants, UNAMSIL, Sierra Leone Army, police, and the public. Traditional dancers and members of both organisations sang and paraded.

Women showed a stage performance "A rape case in a refugee camp" epitomizing the violence which threatens the lives of refugee women. Another speech was given by a returnee woman explaining the challenges which refugees in Guinea and Liberia are facing and how some of them cope with those difficulties. A dramatical demonstration of how women look for their families was also displayed. A role play by the RHG team showing returnee women facing the post-war economic challenges was followed by cultural dancing.

The celebration of World Refugee Day in Kailahun district strongly mobilised the returnees, refugees, UNHCR's partner organisations, and the traditional and local government authorities. It was underlined that more efforts would be devoted to empower and include women in the development of their respective communities.

In Kambia, World Refugee Day was observed at the Port Loko Way station as 426 returnees arrived from Guinea. The guest speaker, Mrs. Patricia Forki Sonkoi (member of the Parliament and former refugee), welcomed the returnees, and encouraged the women and children to be determined to work together to accomplished their dream of returning home. Special prayers were offered by the returning Imam for those who lost their lives during the war and those who lost their families. Instead of the normal bulgur wheat, rice was prepared for dinner. The video "We Were There" was shown at night. A 7-year-old returnee boy thanked UNHCR for the assistance and pleaded on behalf of the returnee and internally displaced children to have free access to education, enough food, and shelter assistance.