Mano River Report: "I am a displaced person (IDP)"

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 ... )"
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 ... " Dauda: "We stayed here for about seven months. We were not registered by anyone and we never got supplies. We lived on bush yams and cut firewood to get money. This was very stressful because at this time we could hear shooting in the surrounding forest so we were afraid of being attacked by the RUF ... One person died of sickness there." The main UN agency supplying food to these populations is the World Food Program (WFP). As they are a UN agency, the WFP must rely on the figures of the implementing partners. This is difficult when the figures are questionable, and when there are several different population numbers given for one camp. For example, at the end of April 2002, as they were preparing to move the IDPs from the camps at Mile 91 (Northern Province), NaCSA gave a population estimate of 30,000, while the camp leader reported 600 people! Yet, even when receiving their food ration, those people interviewed explained that their family had to find other ways to make money in order to have enough to eat. Boima: "We did receive aid but the food was never enough, so the younger people in the group did manual labor to earn money." Sia: "In Dabola the harassment continued and we were very afraid to leave the camp. The food supply was also very small. My food was finished after two weeks. To get money, the only thing that I was allowed to do by the local community was to clean the 'excrement' in the latrines of the families with compounds near the camp." The areas where these people found themselves encamped were often very tense, forcing them to scavenge for food in dangerous situations. Dauda: " ... when you are hungry, you are not afraid of anything." The effect of an insufficient food ration, the ways families found to cope with this problem, and the resulting corruption is best described in an Action Contre la Faim report on the food situation in the IDP camps around Freetown. "The wealth of the displaced was far from being homogenous: better-off displaced had very low dependence on food aid, while large numbers of IDPs, especially the ones who have spent less that one year in the camps, have developed limited coping mechanisms and faced difficulties to cover their daily food needs (... ). There is a very significant gap in terms of access to cash between the poor and the middle/better-off households ... the poor displaced can generate an average of (approx. $3.40/month), while the middle/better-off generate respectively ($122.70 to $170.45/month) through their job and their business. Better-off displaced who obviously do not need food relief (lend) their stocks to the poor households ... when their ration is exhausted (after approx. two weeks). They obtain credit from them that they have to pay back after the distribution, in the form of food relief or in cash. This mechanism enables the better-off to speculate on the food relief - stocking food acquired for free or at very cheap prices that they release when prices go up - while it shortens the duration of the ration for the poor household ... Poor households are therefore in a kind of vicious circle that prevents them from using the food aid for their sole consumption: the duration of their food ration is shortened by loans they have to pay back to the wealthier groups after the distribution, which obliges them to credit the same groups each month when their ration is exhausted." The poor often generate additional money to buy food through manual labor. These impoverished, often larger, households turn to their younger children in order to supplement the family income, especially in difficult times (when the labor market is flooded, when there is a delay in food assistance, etc.). At the end of the day, the result is that those who are truly in need are easily manipulated and drop through the cracks in the system. It is within this context of warfare, corruption, and a constant struggle to survive that reports of children and other individuals exchanging sex for food have been documented. In addition, it is against this backdrop that the current repatriation and resettlement programs are taking place in the sub-region.