SIERRA LEONE: IRIN Special Report on Displacement [19990713]

SIERRA LEONE: IRIN Special Report on Displacement [19990713]

SIERRA LEONE: IRIN Special report on displacement

FREETOWN, 12 July 1999 (IRIN) - By the time the last Revolutionary United Front (RUF) rebels had pulled out of Sierra Leone's capital in January, some 80 percent of the houses in Old Kissy Road, eastern Freetown, had been destroyed, including Usman Koroma's.

Koroma fled to central Freetown on 6 January when a flood of panic-stricken people ran to his neighbourhood as the RUF hit the outskirts of the town. He found refuge in a mosque, where he stayed for a month, after which his paramount chief obtained clearance from the government for Koroma to move to the Approved School camp for the displaced.

In the meantime, his house had been burnt and two of his children killed in the rebel incursion, Koroma - who heads a committee for displaced persons from his neighbourhood in the camp - told IRIN.

"Everyone in this camp has a similar tale," said Timothy M. Swarray from the International Islamic Relief Organisation, the aid agency responsible for managing the camp.

Koroma is one of around 3,000 Freetown residents in the camp, which has another 10,200 internally deplaced persons (IDPs) from other parts of the country, mostly from Port Loko, some 80 km from the capital.

There are more than 60,000 registered IDPs in camps in Freetown. Many more are squatting elsewhere or living with relatives since over 80 percent of the buildings have been destroyed in some areas.

Paramount Chief Baikompa Bomboli II, originally from Port Loko district, told IRIN he had 65 relatives living in his house in eastern Freetown.

But the situation of IDPs in government-controlled areas such as Freetown and parts of the east and south of the country is generally less desperate than that of people behind rebel lines.

An estimated 500,000 civilians receive humanitarian assistance in government-held areas, according to the UN Office for the Coordinaton of Humanitarian Affairs in Freetown (OCHA).

UNICEF, WHO and medical NGOs have provided basic support to some 120 health centres and clinics in Freetown, Bo, Pujehun and Bonthe in the south and Kenema in the east. Food agencies, in addition to servicing displaced people in Freetown, have managed just last month to transport food aid to needy people in Bo and Kenema.

Trucked water, chlorinated wells and waste management activities in most camps have reduced the level of water-borne diseases such as cholera and diarrhoea, while shelter kits have been provided to camp residents in some areas.

On the other hand, the plight of some two million civilians living behind rebel lines in the northern and eastern provinces, half of Sierra Leone's population, is believed to be far more desperate, according to aid agencies.

Many people were abducted by the RUF and forced to serve as porters, recruits or sex slaves, human rights groups say. Many others forced to live under rebel control are denied their right to food, shelter and health care, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan said in a report submitted to the Security Council on 4 June.

Some relief organisations in Freetown said the RUF took food from rural areas in the north and made it available to people in Makeni and elsewhere. "While there have been very limited free distributions, most of the food is sold," a relief official said. He said food was sometimes bought from farms in rural areas, but was more often commandeered.

OCHA in Freetown estimates that well over one million Sierra Leonean civilians need some form of humanitarian assistance.

Aid workers and government officials feel that the most pressing humanitarian concern is securing access to rebel-controlled areas.

UNICEF's project officer for health and nutrition in Sierra Leone, Anne Vincent, told IRIN one reason why there was a measles outbreak in RUF-controlled Kono and Kailahun was that medical agencies had been unable to go there.

Vincent said the medical community was able to immunise 80,000 children in four southern and eastern districts to which aid agencies have had access this year and in camps in Freetown.

The peace agreement which the government and the RUF signed in Lome on 7 July guarantees "safe and unhindered access to all areas under control of the respective parties" and aid workers see this as a positive development.

"Civilians behind rebel lines have a right to assistance," the National Coordinator of the Sierra Leone Association of Non-Governmental Organisations (SLANGO), Iyesha Josiah, told IRIN. "Human beings have a right to live."


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Item: irin-english-1213

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Copyright (c) UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs 1999

Editor: Ali B. Ali-Dinar

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