Refugees protest Nigeria's integration package at UNHCR office

Lagos- Nigeria (PANA) -- Sierra Leonean refugees at Oru camp in South West Nigeri a, who have opted for local integration as one of the durable solutions to their problems, Thursday staged a peaceful protest at the United Nations High Commissi on for Refugees (UNHCR) office in Lagos, insisting on not collecting the 75,000 n aira, welfare package promised them by the refugee agency last year (US$ 1=150 na ira) "The proposed local integration lacks the basic provisions like accommodation, healthcare and livelihood.
No accommodation, no healthcare, no livelihood, we c annot integrate under such circumstances," read one of the placards carried by t he protesting refugees as security personnel formed a barricade to prevent them gaining entry into the building.
An official of UNHCR, at a seminar meant to prepare the refugees on how to set u p their own businesses, told the refugees that each of them would be given 75,00 0 naira as welfare package to enable them fully pursue the local integration prog ramme.
According to the welfare package of the refugee agency, a family with one or two children will receive 82,000 naira, those with three children, 87,000, four chi ldren 92,000, six children and above 100,000.
The money is for accommodation, feeding, medicals, education and other expenses of the refugees.
That announcement sparked protests from the refugees and led to an abrupt end of the seminar.
Almost one month after, the refugees said the UN refugee agency officials have b een indifferent to their plight.
"We are getting fed up with their non-concern over what we are doing, because they know we are here, the security (agencies) know we are here but yet the auth ority are inside the office.
They don't even come out to address us.
" "They have continued to keep mute and we continue to suffer with women and child ren at the receiving end," leader of the protesters and Chairman of the Sierra Leonean Welfare Council, Charles Lebbie, told PANA.
Efforts to speak with the Head of UNHCR office in Lagos, Josephine Smith, was no t successful as the gate to the imposing building was closed, with stern-looking security men saying she was not available to speak with journalists.
The refugees appealed to the Nigerian government and the International community to intervene in saving the situation from degenerating into a major crisis.
They want them to be treated as their colleagues in Ghana, Guinea and Liberia wh o were well catered for.
"The UNHCR is supposed to integrate us like the way they do in Ghana, where re fugees were given 10,000 dollars per family, for their housing, healthcare, food and small business.
But here in Nigeria it is a different matter.
There is no wa y the amount they are proposing will be enough to cater for our needs," said Lau ra John, a mother of four children.
About 400 Sierra Leonean refugees have opted for local integration, as one of th e three major durable solutions to the refugees problem.
Resettlement to a third country and repatriation are the other two options.
At the heights of the civil war in Sierra Leone, thousands of the refugees fled the hostilities in the West African country to take refuge in Nigeria.
Some of them have spent more than 10 years at the camp, located some 140 kilomet res from the commercial city of Lagos.
Some have resettled in Europe and America, while a couple have returned home.
Even with peace returning to the country, many are saying they are not in a hurr y to return and they may not return for security reasons, adding that the peace in the country was fragile.

14 january 2010 17:37:00

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