U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants World Refugee Survey 2005 - Sierra Leone


Sierra Leone


Refoulement/Asylum  There were no reports of refoulement and the Government recognized 2,400 Liberians as prima facie refugees. Sierra Leone had no functioning refugee status determination process, and relied on the Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to review and decide claims. In March, the Cabinet proposed new refugee legislation, modeled on UNHCR guidelines, but it failed to pass.

Detention  The Government detained neither refugees nor asylum seekers for exercise of their rights. Camp-based refugees received ration cards, which also functioned as identification cards. For those who settled on their own, the Government provided attestation letters as proof of their refugee status and right to reside in Sierra Leone. Refugees could enforce their rights in court, but the legal system was rudimentary.

Right to Earn a Livelihood  The Government required refugees to obtain permits to work in formal positions. Otherwise, refugees were free to seek work, conduct business in the informal sector, and buy property.

The Government maintained a reservation to the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, stating that the provisions pertaining to refugees' rights to earn livelihoods were not binding. The Government also reserved the right to impose special taxes on refugees.

Freedom of Movement and Residence  The Government did not restrict refugees' freedom of movement, and refugees traveled freely without harassment. Most refugees lived in camps in the southeastern region near Liberia, but more than 6,000 lived in Freetown and thousands more were integrated in other urban areas or rural communities. The Immigration Department issued international travel documents to refugees leaving for resettlement.

Public Relief and Education  UNHCR provided food, water, sanitation, health, and education to camp-based refugees. Most refugee children attended overcrowded schools in the camps, which were also open to host community children. Refugee children also attended public schools that were located close to the camps on par with nationals.

UNHCR and the Government agreed that assistance entitlements should be identical for returning refugees and IDPs, many who came from the same rural communities. As a result, UNHCR lowered both food and nonfood assistance for refugees to the Government's IDP assistance levels, which included only a two-month food ration instead of the standard six-month ration. UNHCR and international aid workers reported that NGO staff paid refugees extra food and aid for sex.

Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs)  Most of the estimated 750,000 displaced during ten years of civil war and violence returned to their places of origin. Between 2000 and mid-2004, over 225,000 IDPs returned through a Government program, and another 245,000 did so without assistance. The Government closed most IDP camps by early 2003. Thousands of previously displaced persons stayed in cities, such as Freetown, Bo, and Kenema, rather than return home, even though they received no aid. The Government relocated about 20,000 former IDPs who refused to resettle. A residual caseload of 770 amputees and others wounded in the war lived in two camps in Freetown. The Government supported reintegration with logistical aid and reintegration packages, including food and supplies to help rebuild homes.

The war destroyed or damaged 80 percent of all schools. Road conditions remained poor, especially in the areas of return, hindering both refugee repatriation and IDP reintegration. Many health clinics were not prepared to treat returnee populations with high rates of HIV/AIDS infection and malnutrition. Conditions were especially harsh in the Kailahun District where returnees risked running out of food.

Other Developments  In July, UNHCR concluded repatriations, which began in 2000 and returned more than 270,000 Sierra Leonean refugees. In 2004, 26,000 refugees went home. About 20,000 refugees remained in West African countries, particularly in Guinea, Gambia, and Liberia.

Copyright 2005, U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants


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