The problems that the Sierra Leonean populations in the camps of the region have faced (both refugees and displaced) seem to be exacerbated by the choices of implementing partners that have been made by the UN agencies, especially in the case of IDPs. The UN agency mandated by the Secretary General to ensure that the displaced are properly assisted and protected (OCHA; the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs) works as a coordinating body. With very little control or enforcement capacity over the implementing partners relied upon to carry out the work - whose capacity varies and has definitely been an issue at different stage of the history of the camps-OCHA is failing to assume its responsibility with respect to the IDPS.
In Sierra Leone, life in the IDP camps has been known as difficult and strained for the displaced for quite sometime.
"It is increasingly difficult for the Government of Sierra Leone to identify land for temporary settlement of individuals. This has created sub-human conditions in existing IDP camps, with agencies unable to maintain or expand facilities to accommodate additional caseloads. Most affected are the shelter, health and water and sanitation sectors ... Without timely allocation of land for construction of temporary and permanent shelters, planning and response will continue to be difficult and considerably delayed."
As in Liberia with the LRRRC, the main partner and counterpart to OCHA in assuming protection and assistance for the IDPs is the National Commission for Social Action, or NaCSA (previously the National Commission for Reconstruction, Resettlement and Rehabilitation). By being a government commission, it is by definition made up of people who have been appointed by elected officials, making it inextricably linked to the government. It is this commission that is responsible for choosing the agencies that are in charge of managing the camps, which includes, among other things, registration, food distribution and sensitization of the displaced populations.
Inside the camps, these agencies then liaise with the camp chairmen, who play the role of representatives of the displaced population. Yet, many of these managers seem to have been self-appointed, and often are not displaced or do not even live in the camps. Some agencies working in these camps complain that the camp managers are only present during the distribution days. This is especially true of the camps around Freetown.
These camps have had an ongoing registration and verification exercise trying to obtain realistic numbers for the IDP populations. A family's ability to get their food ration, basic shelter, household supplies (in other words the very items that they are entitled to) depends directly on their ability to get a registration card. But it is known that getting a card is not an easy task as this process has been marred with inaccuracies, corruption and incompetence from the beginning.
Many people report that they have paid for their registration card, and even then still did not get it. MSF counselors working in these camps have also been told by the displaced that many camp chairmen and committee member are buying and selling these cards. One way this works is the camp chairmen report the cards they have purchased as lost or stolen to NaCSA so that they can be replaced. They in turn keep the replacement cards as well.
There are also many stories of city residents living in the camps. With the destruction of the eastern part of Freetown in 1999, and the continuous influx of displaced due to the war, the city faces very serious problems of overcrowding and housing shortages. Some people have seen this as an opportunity. They rent their own home, while living for free in the camps, thereby making a nice profit.
All of this has led to confusion, difficulty in planning humanitarian operations, and also a lack of control over the camp programs and distributions. This is especially true for access to food.
In December 1999, Action Contre la Faim (ACF) carried out an assessment in the Western Area's camps to evaluate the impact of food aid on the livelihood of IDPs. This assessment revealed that, "Part of the displaced living in the camp was not benefiting from food distribution, as they were not registered ... "
Protecting Refugees : A Field Guide for NGOs. UNHCR. 1999.
" Refugees must be able to return in safety and dignity. Return in safety means that refugees return in conditions of ... physical security (including protection from armed attacks ... )"