There were no reports of refoulement in 2006.
There were reports of sexual abuse against refugees during the year, with incidents of abuse by other refugees as well as Sierra Leonean nationals. In February, a refugee raped a three-year-old refugee in Tobanda camp. In July, a police officer raped a 10-year-old refugee in Zimmi near the border.
In April, hundreds of Liberian refugees gathered at the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Freetown seeking protection from harassment and intimidation in the wake of the arrest of former Liberian dictator Charles Taylor in March. Rumors circulated throughout the capital that Liberians loyal to Taylor attacked Sierra Leoneans in Monrovia, Liberia. Liberian refugees feared reprisal attacks by Sierra Leoneans in Freetown, but there were no reports that any materialized.
In June, when former Liberian combatants attacked UNHCR's office in Freetown (see below), they accused 22 refugees of treason and threatened them with violence. UNHCR relocated them to Bo, and third countries subsequently resettled them on an emergency basis.
Sierra Leone was party to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees (1951 Convention), its 1967 Protocol, with reservations on the right to work and exemptions from extra taxes, and ratified the 1969 Convention Governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa in 1987. Sierra Leone did not have a specific refugee law, but a 1980 amendment to the 1965 Non-Citizens Act (Registration, Immigration and Expulsion) exempted refugees under the 1951 Convention and any refugee convention Sierra Leone might later ratify from its provisions. Sierra Leone did not have a refugee status determination process but relied on UNHCR to review and decide claims.
The Relief and Resettlement Directorate of the National Commission for Social Action (NaCSA), was responsible for refugee issues. During the year, the Parliament considered a draft refugee law that would improve the protection of refugees, but only began to hold pre-legislative meetings in March 2007.
More than 33,000 Liberian refugees voluntarily repatriated during the year, and about 170 resettled to third countries.
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.
In June, the Government arrested 44 Liberians, 23 women and 21 men, for vandalizing UNHCR's office in Freetown after a group of about 100 former combatants and refugees forced their way in, demanding resettlement to the United States and complaining about medical services in the camps and lack of support for repatriation. After UNHCR told them they would not be eligible for resettlement, they destroyed vehicles and office equipment in the compound. Authorities held the detainees awaiting court appearances at Pademba Road prison. The detainees included a nursing mother with her one-year-old child and a woman suffering from breast cancer. The Government identified 16 of the detainees as ex-combatants and not refugees.
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 July case of a police officer who raped a 10-year-old refugee in Zimmi was still in court at year's end. Refugees had access to courts but were less willing than before to pursue judicial remedies against other refugees. The family of the three-year-old Liberian refugee raped in Tobanda camp settled out of court with the refugee assailant after the police's Family Support Unit learned of the crime.
The Constitution guaranteed equal protection under the law only to citizens of Sierra Leone and expressly exempted foreigners from its prohibition of laws and actions under law that were discriminatory on the basis of race, tribe, sex, place of origin, political opinions, color, or creed but extended to all persons its protection from arbitrary arrest or detention.
Freedom of Movement and Residence
The Government did not restrict refugees' freedom of movement. Refugees were able to choose their place of residence within Sierra Leone. The majority of refugees lived in camps located in the southeastern region of Sierra Leone, while some 5,000 lived in Freetown, Bo, and Kenema.
In April, after the arrest of Liberia's former dictator Charles Taylor and rumors of attacks on Sierra Leoneans in Liberia, Liberian refugees in Freetown expressed fear of moving about for fear of reprisal attacks by Sierra Leoneans.
Sierra Leone's border with Liberia was officially open, but police, customs officials, and soldiers reportedly demanded bribes for passage. To receive international travel documents, UNHCR required refugees to meet several criteria such as proof of acceptance at an educational institution outside of the country. As none met these requirements, none received them.
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. They 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 cost about $22.
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 to its 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 moveable property, but could not own land or other non-moveable property. The Constitution provided that "no property of any description" could be taken 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, but the World Food Programme announced in July that it would be ending food aid in December.
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 aid refugees. The Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper Sierra Leone prepared in 2005 for international donors did not mention refugees except those returning to Sierra Leone. Its September 2006 Annual Progress Report did not mention refugees at all.