UNHCR opens new building in Sierra Leone to cope with returnees
It's a far cry from the tarpaulin office UNHCR started with in Kono in 2002, shortly after peacekeepers from the United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone deployed in the area. Over 33,000 Sierra Leonean refugees have been repatriated to the war-ravaged district since March 2002.
Inaugurated on Tuesday, the new UNHCR/UN building in the town of Koidu has been constructed on government hospital land. When UNHCR leaves the district, it is expected to hand over the building to be used as part of the hospital complex.
However, in his speech at the inauguration ceremony, UNHCR's Representative in Sierra Leone, Musa Abiriga, assured nervous Kono residents that the agency would not leave the district this year. He said operations would continue up to 2005 and structures would be put in place to ensure that there would be no gap created in assistance to refugees as UNHCR phased out its operations in the area.
Chairman of Paramount Chiefs of Kono District, S.N.C Kondo Bundor 11, told assembled guests that they welcomed UNHCR's transparency towards its beneficiaries.
"Before now, organisations would only come with projects in our communities without the involvement of the people. With UNHCR, we know how much is allocated to us and we are involved in the implementation of Community Empowerment Projects," he said.
The Resident Minister, Hon. Sahr Randolph Fellie-Faboi, said the government was very pleased with the work of UNHCR in repatriating thousands of Sierra Leonean refugees and also helping rebuild and create structures and facilities either destroyed during the war or non-existent to begin with.
As the UN refugee agency is expected to considerably scale down its operations in Sierra Leone, a representative of the Ministry of Development and Economic Planning urged locals to take care of their own development: "UN agencies and other organisations can assist us, but our development is in our hands."
At the inauguration ceremony, the UNHCR handed over 30 hospital beds and 16 mattresses to the returnee population for use by the Koidu Government Hospital.
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