Sep 14, 2009, 6:28 AM
June 20 of every year has been set aside to commemorate the plight of refugees in the world, known as World Refugee Day. The Gambia who play host to about 14, 000 refugees from seven countries commemorate this day in a grand style. Despite UNHCR's decision to stop assisting refugees from Sierra Leone due to peace in their country with their counterparts, the Liberians they turned out to join the Ivorian and Cassamance refugees who dominated the show this time round. The joys of Sierra Leoneans and Liberians dwindled as their cessation clauses keep coming close to its end especially for Sierra Leoneans. A refugee journalist takes a look at what transpired there and what is in the offing for the refugees and what some refugees think.
Reading a statement from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees Mr. Antonio Guterres, Mr. Sekou K. Saho, Head of UNHCR Office in the Gambia reads saying, "The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees began work in 1951 with the specific protection challenge for finding solutions for Europeans uprooted in the aftermath of World War 11."
He further went on to say that the world is different and refugee protection is vastly more challenging. That old barriers to human mobility have fallen and new patterns of movement have emerged, including forms of forced displacement that were not envisaged by the '51 UN Refugee Convention.
Conflict today may be motivated by politics, but looking deeper it can also be about poverty, bad governance, climate change leading to competition for scarce resources. Recent food and fuel shortages have had an immediate and dramatic effect on the poor and dispossessed, including refugees and the internally displaced. Extreme price increases have generated instability and conflict in many places, with the very real potential of triggering more displacement.
These new challenges make it all more important that we find ways to address the increasingly complex root causes of displacement. And the best solution is prevention. We need to better understand why states are unable or unwilling to provide citizens with physical, material or legal security.
We at the UN refugee agency, focus on protecting the rights and well-being of refugees. This include ensuring that those fleeing violence and persecution are given access to safety and life-saving assistance, as well as long term support during exile and eventual durable solutions for them to be able to rebuild their lives. The the High Commissioner believes their work is becoming increasingly difficult in most parts of the world. In some countries efforts to control illegal migration are failing to make a proper distinction between those who choose to move and those who are forced to flee because of persecution and violence. And all too often, we see refugees turned away at the borders of countries where they had hoped to find safety and asylum.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees states that asylum and immigration issues are not always addressed in a rational, equitable or effective manner. People in wealthy countries should be aware that moist of the world's refugees are found in the developing world and some of the migratory movements take place in withing the South, and many developing nations have shown enormous generosity in accepting refugees and deserve much more support and solidarity.
On this World Refugee Day, I would like to pay tribute to all of those who have been forcibly uprooted and to the many humanitarians who help them. Refugees show incredible courage and perseverance in overcoming enormous odds to rebuild their lives, ensuring that they get the protection they deserve is a noble cause because refugee rights are human rights- and rights that belong to all. The message concludes.
Hon Ousman Sonko, Secretary of State for the Interior, reiterating the importance of the World Refugee Day said it was not only important to UNHCR but to the Gambia Government as well. He says, "It is an occasion which gives my fellow Gambians the opportunity to not only commemorate the presence of our fellow brothers and sisters in The Gambia, but also one that gives me the opportunity to share with the world, Gambia's experience with refugees."
SoS Sonko defined refugee as a dignified individual, who, for one reason or another, flees from his country of origin to settle in another country, where she or he feels safe. He says, "I wish to emphasise on the fact that refugees come in different professions. Some are doctors, teachers, lawyers, nurses but most importantly, very hardworking individuals," he said others notion of a refugee might simply be of a person who flees his or her country for fear of persecution and come to settle in another country.
He continued to say that individuals left their homes through no choice of theirs but were forced to flee to save their lives and those of their loved ones. "It is our responsibility to ensure that we give full protection to these people and make sure that our country is not only a safe haven for them but a place they can call home, home away from home."
Talking on the theme, "Refugee Protection," he said it is what the Gambia Government under the leadership of His Excellency, President Yayah Jammeh has always taken seriously. "The Gambia is no stranger to refugees. Our long standing tradition of welcoming refugees is well known especially during the Liberia/Sierra Leone crises. Today we have over 14,000 refugees from seven different nationalities."
He said they had completed issuing refugee identities to the across ten clusters in the Western Region and KMC. SoS Sonko applauded the refugees for being law abiding. He recognized the indomitable spirit and courage refugees execute. He urged the security and said, "You must always bear in mind that we are working in the field of refugee protection, indeed, part of a tightly knit family which shares a bond of affinity and common dedication to a very great cause."
Doctor Mboge, the chairman of GAFNA praised government and extended their gratitude to them.
The Chairman of GAFNA Board of Directors said the day was celebrated with mixed feeling that is "I am happy that I am with you as we enjoy peace and stability that The Gambia offers, but sad because you my refugee brothers and sisters continue to be away from your homes away from your various countries of origin." He promised that they will continue to provide safety, peaceful and conducive environment for development so that refugees will feel comfortable in the place they call their home-away from home.
"We are reliably informed that cessation clause will be invoked this year for Sierra Leonean refugees, meaning that many of them will repatriate voluntarily and integrate with the local communities," he said.
He further said that as donor funds get less and less accessible to support refugees especially in the sub-region, these later options need to be taken advantage of now so as to maximize on the advantages they offer. "Please do not overlook these opportunities as they are available only for a limited period of time. Liberian refugees' cessation clause will become effective next year. I therefore implore you to be resolute now in choosing your options."
He says, "Your nations await development even as time glides swiftly away, its time for nation building. It is time to build Africa."
Fatou Mas Jobe, President of the Gambia Red Cross Society said, this day gives us the opportunity to reflect on the situation of refugees the world over, especially on our efforts and contributions towards refugee welfare in The Gambia. She assured the Red Cross' lead role in refugee affairs in the country. "We are aware that our government as a host country needs strong partners who also play a crucial role in protecting and promoting the wellbeing of the refugees by complementing their effort." We shall continue to partner with government, Red Cross is not partners we are leaders in this domain. She said they have been dealing with refugee issue since in 1992 with other stake holders. She said they participated in the setting up of refugee camps in several villages. She pointed out that they had over 15000 registered members covering every single community to cope and respond to the vulnerabilities that continue to occur ranging from hazard mapping, community disaster preparedness and response, food security, climate change, HI/AIDS, refugee crisis management, first aid services among others. "This year's theme, 'Refugee Protection' is fitting." She said.
Disgruntled Liberian refugees came in a small number and Sierra Leonean refugees too did not appear as they did last year. The show was crowned by Francophone refugees. Speaking on behalf of the Sierra Leonean refugees, Abdulraman Kamara the refugee PRO, pointed out their areas of need and said they needed help in line with training to enable refugees integrate with qualification.
Francis Loua, an Ivorian refugee called on those concerned to help reconise them or else they shall get onto those in Geneva, to let them know their what they are going through. Sierra Leonean women refugees were in tears as they ask for UNHCR to help them with microfinance and education because most of them were single parents.