LBR figures


Liberia hosted around 11,000 refugees and asylum seekers, including about 6,900 from Côte d'Ivoire and 3,600 from Sierra Leone. The rest came from Somalia, Sudan, Togo, Nigeria, Iraq, and other countries. Many refugees from Côte d'Ivoire escaped the conflict that broke out in 2002 and those from Sierra Leone fled a decade-long civil war.

Most Ivorians lived in Grand Gedeh, Maryland, and Nimba Counties, but some lived in the UNHCR-supported Saclepea camp and the Barraken refugee village. Most Sierra Leoneans lived in Samukai, VOA (so named because it was near the Voice of America broadcasting facilities), and Banjor refugee camps outside Monrovia.

Following a March peace accord in Côte d'Ivoire, several thousand repatriated. Many Sierra Leoneans also repatriated but the Government agreed to allow the 2,600 remaining to naturalize, which three-fourths accepted, but the Government did not naturalize them.

Refoulement/Physical Protection

There were no reports of refoulement.

In January and February, UNHCR and the Government screened close to 1,800 Ivorian asylum seekers who had arrived in 2002. The Government recognized about 1,200 as refugees prima facie and moved them to Saclepea camp, but denied status to 600 who had not arrived in Liberia during the Ivorian conflict. The Government allowed them to appeal and remain in the country until it reviewed their cases.

Liberia was party to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, without reservation, its 1967 Protocol, and the 1969 Convention governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa. Liberia's 1993 Refugee Act incorporated the definitions of a refugee from both Conventions and allowed for group classification. It offered refugees all the rights in the Conventions, but also allowed the Government to expel them if "necessary or desirable on the grounds of national security or public order." It required applicants to submit claims through UNHCR and established an Asylum Committee to decide them in 30 days. According to the law, rejected applicants could appeal within 14 days to the Appeal Committee or within 21 days to the Supreme Court, and could remain in the country for at least 90 days after rejection to pursue an appeal or admission to another country. The Government reactivated the Asylum and Appeal Committees, however, only in December 2007 since the 2003 civil war and it could not review any of the nearly 100 pending applications.

Under the Refugee Act, UNHCR, could only receive applications, conduct asylum seeker interviews, and screen appeals. However, in one emergency case, it granted status under its mandate to one refugee and immediately referred the refugee for resettlement.

Detention/Access to Courts

Authorities detained at least four refugees for illegal entry and inadequate documentation, including two Sierra Leoneans police stopped for loitering and detained because they did not recognize their refugee identification. Officers detained five refugees at border points and allegedly extorted money from them, including three Ivorians, one Togolese, and one Sierra Leonean. An immigration official involved in the extortion evaded investigators and remained at large.

The 1983 Constitution's equal protection and due process provisions applied to all persons, including refugees. Although refugees enjoyed access to courts and to legal services provided by the Government, the judicial and correctional systems in the country generally remained debilitated by decades of war.

Liberia issued identification documents to officially recognized refugees, and law enforcement officials usually accepted them. While approximately 7,600 refugees received identity documents, about 5,600 did not because they were either absent during the issuing process or had left the country. Asylum seekers received attestation letters, which they had to renew every three months.

Freedom of Movement and Residence

Refugees and asylum seekers moved freely throughout Liberia and could choose their place of residence, but UNHCR provided aid only to camp residents.

The 1983 Constitution guaranteed freedom of movement and choice of residence to "every person ... subject however to the safeguarding of public security, public order, public health or morals or the rights and freedoms of others." The Refugee Act allowed the Government to designate places for refugees, asylum applicants, and their families to live and allowed regulations to enforce such designations but also provided "this shall, however, not preclude the right of any refugee to live in any place of his choice."

With the permission of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, UNHCR issued eight international travel documents for medical reasons in addition to repatriation and resettlement. Refugees had to prove that they had obtained their visa from the destination country and had sufficient means to purchase their tickets and to sustain themselves during their stay to qualify.

Right to Earn a Livelihood

The Refugee Act granted refugees only the same right to work as other noncitizens but exempted them from measures to protect the national labor force and even allowed regulations requiring employers to favor refugees over other non-nationals.

The national Labor Law, however, prohibited employers from hiring non-Liberians unless they obtained work permits (and professional licenses for medical and business activities), and the Ministry of Labor issued work permits only if it determined that no Liberian was qualified for the position. Both refugees and asylum seekers could apply for work permits, but had to pass an interview and pay an application fee of $100. If approved, they had to pay $400 to obtain the permit. The Ministry of Labor could withhold a permit if a refugee's country of origin did not grant reciprocal rights to Liberians.

If they obtained work permits, refugees enjoyed the same rights and labor protections as nationals, including access to social security, unemployment benefits, and disability insurance. Refugees could also obtain licenses and own businesses like nationals, paying equivalent fees, although the General Business Law of Liberia reserved 26 business activities for citizens alone. In practice, however, refugees were able to conduct petty trade and other activities in the informal sector.

The 1983 Constitution reserved the rights of equal employment opportunity and treatment at work to citizens. While refugees could freely acquire and transfer movable and immovable properties under the Constitution, only Liberian citizens could legally own real estate in Liberia.

Public Relief and Education

Liberia provided public relief to refugees on par with nationals, including health services introduced nationally in November.

The Government coordinated the access of humanitarian aid agencies to refugees and asylum seekers and did not restrict agencies that abided by its policies.

UNHCR and other organizations provided food, housing, education, and health services to refugees in camps. However, after the end of the voluntary repatriation program for Sierra Leonean refugees in 2004, UNHCR formally closed the Samukai, VOA, and Banjor camps, and ceased aid but provided self-sufficiency training, hand pumps, and toilets and replaced plastic sheeting on shelters. A Christian group provided medical services to more than 200 Sierra Leoneans remaining in the VOA camp.

UNHCR also offered assistance to needy refugees including medical evacuation, counseling, and legal aid. UNHCR did not aid 500 Somalis because they had not applied for asylum.

The Government mandated free and compulsory primary education for all children, including refugees and asylum seekers but could only provide it to some. UNHCR and humanitarian groups provided free primary education to refugees in camps, except those living in the Sierra Leonean camps outside Monrovia.

The Ministry of Planning and Economic Affairs included the local integration of Sierra Leonean refugees in the interim Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper it prepared for international donors. In the section on national security, it set a goal of integrating more than 3,500 Sierra Leonean refugees by June 2008 through residence permits, citizenship, and enhancing "legislative and general support and acceptance." In the section on governance and rule of law, it aimed to reactivate its Asylum and Appeal Committees by the same date, and to have local organizations absorb the responsibilities of UNHCR and others for managing refugees by December 2008.

USCRI Reports

  • USCR Urges Renewed U.S. Military Intervention in Liberia (Press Releases)
  • USCR Says Emergency U.S. Funding to Assist West African Refugees Is Belated But Welcome (Press Releases)
  • USCR Supports Deployment of U.S. Troops to Liberia to Help Bring Stability to the Region and Facilitate Aid to Refugees and Displaced Persons (Press Releases)
  • Sierra Leone struggles to assist 8,000 new Liberian refugees; relief agencies need funding and coordination (press releases)
  • USCR Urges the President to Protect Life-Saving Refugee Assistance Funds (Press Releases)
  • Africa: Nearly 2 Million Uprooted by New Violence in 19 African Countries Last Year (Press Releases)
  • Africa: New Displacement of Nearly 3 Million Africans Largely Unnoticed by Rest of World (Press Releases)

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