Mano River Report: Introduction

Today, West Africa remains an intricately linked and complicated context, both politically as well as in terms of the humanitarian situation. While the war has been declared officially over in Sierra Leone and the biggest UN peacekeeping force in the world today has been deployed throughout the country, the conflict in Liberia is gaining momentum. New waves of Liberian refugees are moving into Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast and Guinea looking for safety. Thousands of others are being displaced again and again inside of Liberia. These are not the only people on the move. On the eve of the Sierra Leonean presidential elections (May 14, 2002) tens of thousands of Sierra Leoneans were returning to their homes, either from neighboring Liberia and Guinea, or from IDP camps within Sierra Leone. Hundreds of thousands of people are moving in the sub-region at the same time, often through the same towns and the same camps. This is creating a confusing situation to say the least. Many questions are being raised about the manner in which these movements are taking place.Do these people, who have been fleeing conflicts for over ten years, have a chance to decide for themselves if they are ready to return to their homes? Are the necessary conditions in place for these movements to take place in a humane and correct way, according to international standards? Are there appropriate programs in place to facilitate the rebuilding of lives in the war ravaged areas of Sierra Leone? Who is responsible for ensuring the protection of these people in such a politically charged environment? Who decides which groups (Liberian displaced, Sierra Leonean returnee, etc.) are worthy of assistance? As sanctions are being re-imposed on Liberia, and the multi-million dollar Peace Process in Sierra Leone is drawing to a close, it is the human aspect of this conflict, the rights of the people to protection and humanitarian assistance that seems to have been lost in the political shuffle. It is with the people of this region in mind - their years of struggle through hunger and warfare - that MSF has been looking into the conditions in which they have been living, and the subsequent responses (or lack thereof) of the international community to their plight. The following document, based on eyewitness accounts of MSF staff in the field, will attempt to portray what life has been like for the people of the region, both in terms of the war, and in terms of the protection and assistance they have received from those responsible for their care. To provide an easier understanding of an admittedly complicated and confusing situation, the populations included in this report are described by geographic regions. The movement of the people in and around the Mano River region has been, and continues to be, due to protracted conflict. Survival today for many people in the Mano River region is, truly, political.