Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone: NRC country programmes

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The Norwegian Refugee Council has the following goals for its work in Sierra Leone:
  • Help provide temporary protection of and assistance to internally displaced persons, returning refugees and Liberian refugees

  • Ensure that children and young people of school age receive a basic education

  • Support the peace and reconciliation process

  • Contribute to re-construction and normalization

  • Promote internally displaced persons' rights

  • Assist repatriation of refugees and return of internally displaced persons
This is what we are doing:
  • Teacher training and classes for children and young people that do not attend school - in collaboration with UNICEF and others

  • Reintegration programme for former child soldiers - in close collaboration with UNICEF

  • Establishment and operation of camps for returned Sierra-Leonean and Liberian refugees

  • Rehabilitation and construction of schools in selected areas with especially large groups of internally displaced persons and where large numbers of returning refugees are expected

  • Housing and reintegration project for amputees and people wounded in the war

  • Information work about internally displaced persons' rights

  • Awareness raising with regard to HIV/Aids
Recent developments in projects

Approximately 80 % of Sierra Leone's population is illiterate. One of the most important contributions to peace and recovery in the country is to strengthen the basic education. The need for acute measures is enormous. The Norwegian Refugee Council has an educational programme aimed primarily at children between the ages of 10 and 14 years that have scarcely received any education and that are not being offered any schooling. By providing this group with basic reading, writing and mathematics skills and teaching subjects such as human rights, religion, trauma management and gymnastics, the goal is that they will be able to enter the formal school system. Without a specially adapted programme of this type, this group of children and young people will go through life without any education. The programme is simple and flexible, based on the "school in the box" system, and is underway in Kambia, Kailahun and Kono - three districts that were particularly badly affected by the conflict. In the course of 2002, some 16 000 children will receive this type of tuition. The re-establishment of schools is also a priority aspect of our work in the education sector.

In 2003, NRC will launch a youth literacy programme adapted and developed to the needs of youth between 14 - 22 with little or no formal educational background. These can be ex-combattants, returnees, IDPs or local youth. The socalled "Youth Pack" is a one-year full time programme teaching Literacy, Numeracy, Health, Physical Education, Peace and Human Rights and a component of practical skills training in order for young people to become functionally literate and increase their self-reliance and chances of employment.

Until recently, approximately half a million Sierra Leoneans were refugees in Guinea, Liberia and other countries. Organized repatriation was planned to start in spring 2000, but because of the unstable security situation in the country, it was not actually started until January 2001, when the unrest and the unsafe conditions in refugee camps in Guinea made it necessary to start the work. In July 2001, a peace treaty was signed in Abuja resulting in the rapid deployment of the world's largest UN peacekeeping force and the start of the demobilization and disarmament process that culminated in January 2002, when more than 50 000 former soldiers had handed in their weapons. Since July 2001, the security situation has improved considerably, and new areas have gradually become accessible for humanitarian presence and aid work. The Norwegian Refugee Council has started a range of activities in the parts of the country that were hardest hit by the conflict and to which the greatest number of displaced persons are expected to return. The number of internally displaced persons and refugees from Sierra Leone has diminished markedly in the first half of 2002. On 14 May, presidential and parliamentary elections were held. The elections were carried out in an orderly and fair way and led to president Kabbah remaining in power. Despite the new-found peace and stability, the country is still facing a precarious humanitarian situation and is dependent on international support for reconstruction.

A core part of the transitional process the Government of Sierra Leone (GoSL) is facing, involves the planning and implementation of programmes to support the reintegration of the displaced and returnees back into their communities in safety and with dignity. As this proceeds, the Government of Sierra Leone (GoSL) together with its local and international partners are endeavouring to extend humanitarian assistance to previously inaccessible parts of the country, re-engage in reconstruction and rehabilitation efforts in support of waraffected populations and restore civil authority. In this context, particular attention has to be paid to the reintegration of amputees and war wounded. Only NRC has so far embarked on construction of houses for this particular group.

The situation in neighbouring Liberia has deteriorated rapidly of late. Several thousand Liberians have already crossed the border to Sierra Leone, and it is expected that many more people will be forced to flee if the situation does not improve considerably. An important task facing the Norwegian Refugee Council is to help promote the rights of this group and improve their living conditions. To this end, we run a large camp in Jembe, in collaboration with UNHCR and are now planning to build up a new camp for Liberian refugees in Sierra Leone.

Recent developments - the conflict and the refugee situation

The fighting between the government and the West African peacekeeping force ECOMOG on the one hand and the rebel movement Revolutionary United Front (RUF) on the other blew up again at the end of 1998 and continued into 1999. More than 30 000 people have lost their lives in the civil war in Sierra Leone. More than a quarter of the population have fled from their homes, of which half are now internally displaced persons. In the course of 1998 alone, 200 000 people fled from the country. The hostilities have destroyed large parts of the capital Freetown and have inflicted much suffering on the civilian population. As a result of the security situation, it has been difficult for humanitarian organizations to get aid to displaced persons in rural areas.

In July 1999, the government and the rebels in Sierra Leone signed a peace treaty that gave grounds for hope that the civil war might finally be over. A coalition government was formed, and the peace treaty laid down that there would be a demobilization of all the groups of soldiers that had taken part in the civil war and a new government army would be formed. However, the RUF was not willing to demobilize, and in May 2000 plans by the RUF to mount a coup were discovered and the RUF leader Sankoh was arrested. The RUF then attacked and kidnapped a number of UN soldiers, creating major obstacles for the peace process. Although the UN soldiers were released, the RUF was weakened and a new ceasefire started in November 2000, the peace process did not get underway until a new peace treaty was signed in Abuja in July 2001. This treaty resulted in the rapid deployment of the world's largest UN peacekeeping force and the start of a massive demobilization and disarmament process. Since then, the security situation has improved to a point where the UN will now begin to strengthen its presence in the country. New areas have gradually become accessible for humanitarian presence and aid work. The presidential and parliamentary elections held on 14 May were carried out in an orderly and fair way and resulted in president Kabbah remaining in power.

The United Nations' strong presence and the recent stability and peace in Sierra Leone have led to a sudden decrease in the number of internally displaced persons and refugees from Sierra Leone. UNHCR and other actors have now started the organized repatriation of these refugees and internally displaced persons, and the Norwegian Refugee Council is involved in this work.

Background

The war in Sierra Leone started in 1991 when the RUF attacked targets in Sierra Leone from bases in neighbouring Liberia. The RUF demanded economic reforms and a more democratic government, but has proven itself to be a ruthless guerrilla movement. The rebels are based in the diamond-rich areas in the east of the country, and they fund their hostilities with income from the diamond trade. The RUF is also rumoured to receive support from Liberia.

Long misgovernment and fighting over the control of the diamond reserves in the country are two of the main reasons behind the civil war in Sierra Leone. The government is weak and totally dependent on the presence of the United Nations' forces and the West-African peacekeeping force ECOMOG.