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SIERRA LEONE: Former IDPs say feel betrayed

GRAFTON, 25 June 2008 (IRIN) - The aid workers who provided food, healthcare and shelter to internally displaced people (IDPs) during Sierra Leone’s civil war are long-gone from this muddy, rubbish-strewn community of tin-roofed lean-to’s and open sewers. For the 10,000 former IDPs who stayed behind, disillusionment, powerlessness and lawlessness run strong.

“All our places of origin were burned in the war and we have no money for going back or rebuilding so we just stayed here,” explained Abdu Kassin Kamara, a community leader in Grafton, 30km outside the capital Freetown.

The international community has poured around US$300 million dollars per year into 'post-conflict reconstruction' in Sierra Leone since 2000, amounting to some 60 percent of the country’s budget, and the UN made the country one of the first to benefit from the attention of its Peacebuilding Commission.

However the money and attention has mainly focused on rebuilding government ministries and other state institutions, and Sierra Leone as a whole is still deemed “unlikely” to meet any of the UN’s millennium development goals.

None of the investment has made it to the forgotten victims of the country’s war in Grafton, one of seven ‘resettlement camps’ recognised by the government as new townships populated by former IDPs who cannot go home.

The three schools which serve the hordes of children in Grafton were all built by the Baptist Church which also pays the teachers, Kamara said.

Muslim associations are building a mosque but there is no health clinic – Grafton residents must tramp 20 km to the nearest town and then pay for the treatment and medicines they need. Most turn to traditional healers or simply suffer in silence. Sierra Leone has one of the lowest life expectancies in the world.

Betrayed promises

“After the war, many promises were made to us by the government for proper shelter and medical facilities,” Kamara said. “During elections the politicians come back and make the same promises, but then nothing is ever done.”

The only sign of national or international aid in Grafton apart from the schools and the mosque are the faded aid agency logos stamped onto some of the wooden furniture scattered around, the tattered UN Refugee Agency plastic sheeting still covering some shelters, and a rusted water tower – legacies of emergency aid operations that zoned in on Sierra Leone in the 1990s.

Unemployment in Grafton runs high, as it does in the rest of the country. The UN Development Programme in 2007 ranked Sierra Leone the least developed of all 177 countries it analyses. Grafton residents say they scrape by with odd jobs – making bricks, cutting wood or carrying water – and cooking and washing for women.

On Fridays Sierra Leonean amputees who had arms and legs sliced off by machete-wielding rebels during the war and who still live in a separate compound of concrete-walled huts built in the 1990s by the Norwegian Refugee Council, go out to beg in traffic jams in Freetown.


Sergeant Jabez Njabay, manning a police post just outside the wire fences that mark where the former IDP camp begins, said criminality is rife.

“Violence and crime are common here,” he said. Stealing, fighting and drunkenness are common problems. “This community is exceptionally poor. Most of them cannot afford to buy anything,” Njabay said. “The men have no jobs. Many of them drink.”

Every day women and many young girls come to Njabay to complain they have been raped and attacked by men in Grafton, many of them apparently enlightened by their experiences with the foreign aid organisations that they have the right to prosecute men who attack them.

“I have to tell them to walk to another town,” Njabay said. Most women don’t bother, knowing their chances of receiving justice are extremely slim or even non-existent.

Kamara, the community leader, said many people wish their suffering in peacetime would receive even a fraction of the attention it did when war was raging. “We still need attention, because we could do more with our lives than this,” he said.

“Before the war we all worked, we all made money, we lived freely. Now we have this hard life and nothing else.”


Theme(s): (IRIN) Aid Policy, (IRIN) Children, (IRIN) Conflict, (IRIN) Economy, (IRIN) Education, (IRIN) Food Security, (IRIN) Gender Issues, (IRIN) Governance, (IRIN) Health & Nutrition, (IRIN) HIV/AIDS (PlusNews), (IRIN) Human Rights, (IRIN) Migration, (IRIN) Refugees/IDPs, (IRIN) Urban Risk, (IRIN) Water & Sanitation



Copyright © IRIN 2008
This material comes to you via IRIN, the humanitarian news and analysis service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations or its Member States.
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