Mano River Report: Conclusion
24 May 2002
The problems discussed in this report are not new to people who work in the humanitarian world. In fact they are depressingly common, especially in the complicated Mano River region. But, these problems also raise some very important questions for those who claim to be concerned first and foremost with the civilian population and their humanitarian needs. Perhaps the most important being: a. what is protection? b. why is it not being provided? c. why are the needs of displaced people still not being properly taken care of? In Sierra Leone, the international community is injecting huge amounts of money, but it is going primarily to the military part of the peace process. Military operations on this scale are not only extremely important, but also very expensive, and very important to be seen as being successful. But will their success be measured against human suffering and the denial of human dignity? The UN in Sierra Leone is in a very delicate situation. The Special Representative to the Secretary General of the UN has found himself wearing two hats: a humanitarian one, and a political/military one. It seems that the humanitarian needs are taking a back seat to politics. This is seen in the manner in which the government National Commission for Social Action (NaCSA) is being allowed to basically evict people from the camps, claiming that the war is over now and everyone needs to go home. So who is going to be responsible for the people's rights at the end of the day? Who is supposed to be sure that this repatriation and resettlement program takes place in humane conditions and that the basic services that all people have a right to are provided for them? Who, at the end of the day, will put the people before the peace process? As the next phase of this resettlement process takes place, Médecins Sans Frontières asks:
What is planned to ensure that the problems outlined above are not repeated?
Are there camps and assistance available to people who choose not to return to their homes at the moment, or will the eviction process be allowed to take place anyway?
Will repatriation be organized in such conditions (transport, supply, transit) that people dignity and needs are respected?
Are the donor countries going to remain committed to funding any future programs for combating malnutrition and possible epidemics that may arise out of this chaotic and unprepared return program?
In Liberia, the issues of protection are even more life threatening. Civilians have been running from one camp to the next for years now. The international continues to hide from their faces and their horror stories behind a thinly veiled game of terminology.
Médecins Sans Frontières asks how long political issues will continue to overshadow humanitarian needs of the people.
Why is the international community waiting to consider the Liberian context a "disaster"?
Who is going to make sure that the people are guaranteed the right to flee conflict and persecution?
Who is going to guarantee their safety in countries of asylum?
Who will secure the right for humanitarian assistance to reach these people; especially the displaced?
This all comes down to one main question: when will humanitarian needs be separated from political agendas?
The war in this sub-region does not seem to be going away. As long as the violence continues, the people will remain in need of humanitarian assistance and protection. The needs which we see today, and that we know will be there tomorrow, will not go away. People will continue to survive (not live) as best they can, relying more on their own communities and traditional networks than on the international humanitarian community. It is not hard to imagine that problems, including the sexual exploitation of people in camps, will continue.
It is almost as if there needs to be a reminder that it is not the fault of the displaced and refugees, but our systems for providing protection and assistance that does not work. They, after all, have had to learn the hard way what it takes to survive.