Mano River Report: Voluntary repatriation

Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement. UNOCHA. 1998 "At the minimum, regardless of the circumstances, and without discrimination, competent authorities shall provide internally displaced persons with and ensure safe access to: - Essential food and potable water; - Basic shelter and housing - Appropriate clothing; - Essential medical services and sanitation."
The people in the camps were also supposed to be given a choice between going home with transport provided to them, which is called "facilitated repatriation", or on their own which is "voluntary repatriation". Many of the camp residents never knew that they had a choice but to go home by their own means. Displaced woman Age approximately 40 Lebanese School displaced camp Sierra Leone April 4, 2002 "They told us that we had to sign up to be repatriated. It would be either voluntary or facilitated. Mr. Z explained to us that people who signed up for facilitated repatriation would have to wait for the government trucks, and that could take along time, even after the rains. "Those who did not want to wait that long should sign up for voluntary repatriation. So I signed up for voluntary repatriation. But then just a few days later, the trucks came to the camp to get the others! We asked Mr. Z what happened. It was the reverse of what we were told. He said that it was a gamble and we lost." The term "voluntary" in this case then, refers to people who will not be given transportation to secondary distribution points and/or resettlement areas. What it does not imply is a choice, since these people have been misinformed about their options, essential services for them are stopping in the camps and the threat of forcible eviction is beginning to be heard. For those who signed up for this voluntary repatriation, most have had to make their way home on foot as they do not have the money to pay for transport. There have been little or no provisions made for those moving on foot, such as medical screening prior to departure, or water points and medical stations along the way. At many of the secondary distribution points, there has been no provision for water, latrines, medical care or shelter. As the days for receiving NFI packages is limited (usually each camp is designated one or two days on which they can receive the supplies) people tend to rush to get to the distribution points quickly, but end up being stuck there, for different reasons, with no basic services. Displaced woman Age 36. Segbwema Sierra Leone April 25, 2002 "I am blind and have four children aged three to 20 years. I left my 11 years ago because of the war. We were refugees in Guinea where my husband fell sick and died. We came on foot from Blama camp ... to Segbwema where we got our NFI package. I wanted to come here right away to be sure to get my supply. "I thought that if we waited for facilitated repatriation organized for after the elections, there would not be enough supply for everyone. But for three weeks we have been blocked here because we don't have money to pay for transport to our village. We live in the old school building with 6 other families. We have finished our food stock. I already sold some of my NFI to buy more food. I have no money ... and it is too far to go on foot with small children. I don't know what is going to happen to us. There are many other women alone with children like me in Segbwema." In Makeni on April 6, 400 "voluntary" returning displaced arrived with no shelter, confused registration lists, no water and no sanitation facilities. When MSF asked the local NaCSA representative in Makeni what these people should use as latrines, they were told "that they should ask residents near the stadium if they can use their facilities should the need arise." On April 11, at 7 pm in the evening the MSF team in Magburaka (Northern Province) was asked to set up water at a nearby transit point for the next day, as hundreds would be arriving and no provision for drinking water had been organized. But it was not planned by NaCSA, OCHA and UNHCR that people would stay in these secondary distribution points for long. What we saw is that many need at least several days to organize themselves in order to get home. Others face different problems. Some are not on the lists. In Kailahun town, one of the Sierra Leonean refugees interviewed in Sinje camp in Liberia was met again in the market. He explained that he left his wife in Daru because he had no idea what he was going to find in Kailahun, and he knew his house had been destroyed. Returnee man age 36 Kailahun town, Sierra Leone April 9, 2002 "We all came together with the UNHCR convoy from Sinje. We slept in Zimmi and arrived the next day at Blama. Here, we got our non-food items, and then we signed up to go back home because I have had enough of camps. When we arrived in Daru, they told me that I was not on the manifest and so could not get my food. How can they say this when they see me getting off of their own trucks?" In the recent resettlement plan to Bombali district (Northern Province), NGO counselors in Trade Center, Grafton and National Workshop camps reported that the International Office for Migration (IOM, one agency providing transport for the repatriation and resettlement programs) came into the camps one day before the planned resettlement was to take place. With the short notice, those IDPs on the list who intended to return to their homes, ran around trying to prepare their belongings as quickly as possible. The following day when the trucks arrived for the scheduled departure, the people who were told the day before that they would be leaving with this convoy, were no longer on the list. Instead, there were names of a number of other people who were not supposed to be leaving the camp at all. Many of these people were not even from the area where the convoy was going (Makeni), and they did not speak the language. Upon arrival in Makeni, a number of registered IDPs who were on the trucks, still were not on the manifest. Others stay in these locations because some of the agencies providing their supplies do not have enough stock to give them their resettlement packages. Instead, they issue tokens to the people and tell them that anywhere from two weeks to two months they can return to get their provisions. Musa age 40 Kailahun April 6, 2002 " ... On April 6th we were brought in trucks to Daru. They gave us our food supply that in theory is supposed to feed us for two months ... Not everyone received their food because there is not enough. They told us, 'come back to collect your food in two weeks;' But we cannot come back! We have already paid the transport to return to our village ... We stayed blocked in Daru for two weeks. We sleep outside our in abandoned houses, or even on the ground." This is in part caused by the constant change in plans from OCHA, UNHCR and NaCSA, incorrect numbers of people who are expected at these points, and the rush to resettle everyone. On top of this there are also problems with the actual supply. Many implementing partners complain that they were not prepared for everyone to be moved. Planning, subsequent budget requests and purchasing of supplies had not included the entire IDP population. Others report that donors are slow to respond to these new requests for additional funding. This is resulting in late orders being made, late deliveries to distribution sites and at times incomplete packages. The latest news is that the ship with the needed supplies should be arriving in country in June. This affects all items, including those that are most needed; food and shelter material (plastic sheeting). Even for those who do get their full package, some cannot afford transport and have to find other ways to go home. Mustafa age 29 Returnee man On the road from Segbwema to Bunumbu - April 25, 2002 "I am going home on foot with my wife, my sister and my daughter to our village Bende Yawei, 26 miles from Segbwema (a secondary distribution point). "I left my village in 1991 because of the attacks. We still have two more days of walking ahead of us. We arrived on foot from Blama camp to Segbwema two weeks ago to get our supplies. Since then we have been blocked, with no means of transport and no money to pay. We already sold our bag of bulgur (the main cereal distributed in West Africa) and two tins of oil. "Yesterday, we decided to continue on foot carrying everything on our heads. At night we sleep next to the road. When it rains, we make a small shelter with the piece of plastic sheeting from our kit."