Last Updated: Friday, 16 February 2018, 15:01 GMT

World Refugee Survey 2008 - Sierra Leone

Publisher United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Publication Date 19 June 2008
Cite as United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, World Refugee Survey 2008 - Sierra Leone, 19 June 2008, available at: [accessed 19 February 2018]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

SLE figures


Sierra Leone hosted 8,700 refugees, almost all of them Liberians who fled civil war in their homeland beginning in 1989. Nearly 20,000 Liberians voluntarily repatriated, and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) completed its repatriation program at the end of June.

Refoulement/Physical Protection

There were no reports of refoulement.

A police officer accused of raping a 10-year-old Liberian refugee was still being detained pending trial at year's end. Also pending at year's end were the trials of adult refugees accused of sexually abusing two refugee children. Three local youths were turned over to juvenile authorities and returned to their villages after allegedly assaulting a woman refugee, and authorities transferred the woman to another camp. A Sierra Leonean magistrate closed the case of a refugee accused of raping a refugee child for lack of evidence.

Sierra Leone's legislature approved the Refugees Protection Act, 2007 (Refugees Act) in May, and the Government published it in August. The law mandated the creation of the National Refugee Authority, a committee chaired by the Minister of Foreign Affairs and vice-chaired by the Minister of Internal Affairs, with additional representation from the National Commission for Social Action (NCSA), the Office of National Security, and representatives from the education, labor, health, social welfare, and local government ministries. The Refugees Act called for members of the Human Rights Commission of Sierra Leone and UNHCR to participate as nonvoting members. The Authority's duties under the act included formulating refugee policy, ensuring the rights of refugees, granting refugee status prima facie in the case of large influxes, and ensuring adequate facilities for reception and care of refugees.

The Refugees Act designated the NCSA as the implementing agency for refugee policy. It authorized the NCSA to make refugee status determinations, during which time asylum seekers had the right to present evidence and be represented by counsel at the Government's expense. The Refugees Act permitted female asylum seekers to have female interpreters, and if possible, to be interviewed by female NCSA staff members, and it called for appointing representatives to advocate on behalf of unaccompanied minors. It called for granting refugee status based on the standards of the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees (1951 Convention), the 1969 Convention governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa (African Refugee Convention), and earlier international agreements on refugees.

If the NCSA denied asylum seekers' claims, they could appeal to an Appeal Committee within 30 days of their denial, where they could again have legal counsel and present evidence. The Appeal Committee was to include a judge of the Superior Court of Judicature, representatives of the Human Rights Commission of Sierra Leone, the NCSA, the Christian Council and Council of Imams, the Immigration Department, and nonvoting members from UNHCR and the Law Officers' Department.

Sierra Leone was party to the 1951 Convention, its 1967 Protocol, with reservations on the right to work and exemptions from extra taxes, and ratified the African Refugee Convention in 1987.

Detention/Access to Courts

The Government did not detain refugees or asylum seekers for exercising their rights, but police arrested several refugees for other crimes, including rape, destruction of property, and minor criminal offenses. Authorities arrested two refugees for raping local children during the year; a court convicted one and sentenced him to three years in prison, and the other was on trial at year's end.

The Refugees Act prohibited the detention of refugees or asylum seekers for illegal entry or stay.

UNHCR, the International Committee of the Red Cross, the Lawyers' Centre for Legal Assistance, and other human rights organizations had access to detention facilities.

Refugees based in camps in the southeast of the country used ration cards as identity documents, and UNHCR issued attestation letters to urban and camp-based refugees upon request. Law enforcement authorities recognized both ration cards and letters of attestation.

The Constitution guaranteed equal protection under the law only to citizens of Sierra Leone and expressly exempted foreigners from guarantee of equal protection under the law but extended to all persons its protection from arbitrary arrest or detention.

Freedom of Movement and Residence

Government policy dictated that refugees who arrived after 2001 ought to live in camps, but authorities made no attempt to enforce this. Refugees arriving before 2001 had complete freedom of movement and residence. The only exceptions were former combatants, whom Sierra Leone confined to camps, although they could seek permission to leave from the Sierra Leonean police and prisons department.

The Refugees Act permitted the National Refugee Authority to designate specific areas for refugees' residence, to establish camps, to draft regulations for the administration of camps, and to order refugees to live in such areas.

Sierra Leone's border with Liberia was officially open, but police, customs officials, and soldiers reportedly demanded bribes for passage. Authorities also issued international travel documents for refugees when UNHCR so requested.

The Constitution explicitly provided for restrictions on the freedom of movement and residence of non-citizens.

Right to Earn a Livelihood

Sierra Leone required all foreigners, without exception for refugees, to obtain permits to work. It did not attempt to prevent refugees from working, however, and many did work in both the informal sector and professional positions including teaching or nursing.

Theoretically, refugees could apply for work permits on their own or through their employers on the same terms as other migrants, and had to pay fees and present passport photos to the Ministry of Labor to obtain them. The permits did not restrict where or in what industries their bearers could work, and cost about 65,000 leones ($22).

The Refugees Act did not specifically address refugees' right to work, but did say that in formulating regulation to enact it, the National Refugee Authority could require employers to give preference to refugees when hiring foreigners. Sierra Leone maintained a reservation to the 1951 Convention's right of refugees to work, stating that "it considers the article to be a recommendation only" and also maintained a reservation to the 1951 Convention's exemptions from extra taxes, stating that "it reserves the right to impose special taxes on aliens as provided for in the Constitution." The Constitution of Sierra Leone reserved to citizens the rights to "secure adequate means of livelihood," but extended to "all persons in employment" protection of health, safety, and welfare.

Refugees could own movable property, but could not own land or other immovable property. The Constitution provided that authorities could take "no property of any description" arbitrarily, without limiting this to the property of citizens.

Public Relief and Education

UNHCR and its implementing partners provided food, education, medical services, water, and sanitation to camp-based refugees. Refugees outside the camps could also access government-run schools and medical facilities.

There were no restrictions on agencies assisting refugees, and the Government granted duty-free concessions to such agencies.

The Constitution of Sierra Leone granted all citizens the opportunity to "be educated to the best of [their] ability, aptitude and inclination." In practice, this assurance extended to refugees through the provision of education in refugee camps and UNHCR's provision of limited scholarships for tertiary education.

The Government allowed UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations access to assist refugees. The Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper that Sierra Leone prepared in 2005 for international donors did not mention refugees except those returning to Sierra Leone. Its 2007 Annual Progress Report did not mention refugees at all.

USCRI Reports

  • USCR Says Emergency U.S. Funding to Assist West African Refugees Is Belated But Welcome (Press Releases)
  • Notes from the field: Sierra Leonean refugee women and the challenge of reintegration (Press Releases)
  • Sierra Leone struggles to assist 8,000 new Liberian refugees; relief agencies need funding and coordination (Press Releases)
  • Africa: Nearly 2 Million Uprooted by New Violence in 19 African Countries Last Year (Press Releases)

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