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 Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People

People on the Move

N 109 (Suppl.), April 2009







Bishop Patrick Daniel Koroma

    Bishop of the Diocese of Kenema


The Sierra Leone situation regarding refugees is one among many in the world. So, the purpose of this talk is an attempt to highlight the work of a small diocese in dealing with issues affecting internally displaced persons and refugees from Liberia. In this period the people of the diocese fled to Guinea and Liberia and lived in refugee camps for many years. Then our people returned or were repatriated from 2002 and then we became 'Returnees'. My late mother lived in Freetown for many years until the end of the war and returned to our village after the disarmament.

A more ambitious aim could be to try on a personal basis to put the particulars together. You may be aware of the adage; 'He who would do good must do so in minute particulars ... for art and science cannot exist but in minutely organised Particulars.'

In our situation we had to take the pastoral care of refugees as an opener, as a general theme, a general way of working in a number of interconnected rooms by our pastoral presence i.e. dealing with conflict, fear, trauma, security, good governance, humanitarian help, life in a camp, seeking new roots, advocacy, blood diamonds, proliferation of small arms, effects of drug trade, rape victims, amputees, destitution,  etc. - the number of rooms, doors and windows of opportunities are endless.


The Mano River Union was formed in October 1973 by late President Siaka Stevens of Sierra Leone, President Sekou Toure of Guinea and Williams Tolbert of Liberia. The aim was: 

  • To establish a customs Union and make trade free between member states.
  • To conduct feasibility studies of union industries e.g. HEP, irrigation.


The region was relatively quiet and peaceful until April 12th 1980 when President Tolbert of Liberia was dethroned in a military coup by Junior Army Officers headed by Sergeant Samuel Kayon Doe.

Sergeant Doe hastily manipulated the Liberian Government and rose to the status of President during the course of the decade to the point that other military and civilian officials joined forces and formed rebel factions to remove him from power. There was the ULIMO K led by Alhaji Kroma and NPFL led by Charles G. Taylor. In 1988 Mr. Charles Gangay Taylor, NPFL rebel movement succeeded to overthrow and kill president Doe in a brutal rebel war.

However the country and the region never saw peace because the various rebel factions fought among themselves for leadership of the country.

Meanwhile the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) sent an army contingent (called Ecomog) to station in Sierra Leone from where they could intervene and bring peace in war torn Liberia. This seriously angered Charles Taylor who vowed that he would make Sierra Leoneans taste the bitterness of war.

Sierra Leone

On March 21st 1991 a new rebel incursion took place from Lofa Country of Western Liberia into Sierra Leone at a border town called Bomaru (Upper Bambara chiefdom, Kailahun District, Eastern Sierra Leone). This incursion was led by a former military officer of Sierra Leone, Foday Sebana Sankoh. His rebel movement was called Revolutionary United Front (RUF). His aim was to overthrow the ruling All Peoples Congress (APC) Government, which was then in its second regime lead by President Joseph Saidu Momoh (now late).

The other reason behind the incursion was that Foday Sankoh had once been imprisoned by the APC Government of Sierra Leone in the 1970s, then led by Siaka Stevens. He fled from his captivity and went into exile but had sworn that he would come back and revenge. He and his rebels had their training in Libya and settled in North Western Ivory Coast at a place called Dananiar. They emerged from there and passed through Western Liberia and started the bloody Sierra Leone Rebel war. 

In April 1992 Junior Military officers of Sierra Leone headed by Captain Valentine Strasser staged a bloodless military coup and overthrew President J. S. Momoh. There was a short lull in hostilities in Sierra Leone during the reign of the NPFL (1992 to 1996) as incidents of cease-fire started taking place between the RUF and the NPRC Government. During the same period (1995-1996) the leadership of the NPRC changed hands from Captain Valentine Strasser to Captain Julius Maada Bio. Secondly a civil militia force of local hunters called the Kamajors grouped themselves together and formed alliance with the NPRC Government forces. During the same period the international intervention force of Ecomog transformed into the United Nations Observer Mission in Sierra Leone (UNOMSIL). A civilian Government was democratically elected led by President Ahmed Tejan Kabba, to lead to country to a peaceful end of civil crisis.

However on 27th May 1997 another Military coup by Junior Officers took place and a new, but nationally and internationally unrecognized, Head of State came to power in the person of Major Johnny Paul Koroma.  His movement, the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) formed alliance with the RUF to fight the Tejan Kabba's SLPP Government.  President Kabba went into exile in neighboring Guinea. The UN unarmed forces of UNAMSIL acquired an armed military mandate to fire back at the rebels while keeping peace and became know as United Nations Armed Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL).

 The causes of conflict in Sierra Leone are manifold and complex, and have been analyzed extensively elsewhere (Ref. Witness to Truth: Report of the Sierra Leone Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Volume 3A) 

Economic Support for the conflict

Two major economic activities strengthened the rebel movements (NPFL and RUF) in the region. Logging of timber and mining of diamond gems. Both resources were smuggled into Liberia and sold to foreign merchants, particularly from Ukraine, who in turn provided deadly weapons for the rebel movements to continue the war. 


The situation became more complex and unsafe because destruction to particularly civilian life and property was a daily routine. The result of this instability was a huge displacement of civilians within Liberia and Sierra Leone. Tens of thousands of people were killed, limbs amputated, hundreds of thousands fled to seek refuge in neighbouring and outside countries while those who couldn't move out kept shifting from one safe part of their countries to another as IDPs. The war paralysed the economy, caused the collapse of public services, destroyed the country's infrastructure, and incapacitated government institutions. Up to two million people, around half of the country's population, were displaced 

In early 1992 more people fleeing the rebel conflict in Liberia entered in large numbers to take refuge in Eastern Sierra Leone. At the same time the RUF rebel incursion into Sierra Leone was spreading very fast within Kailahun and Pujehun districts which directly border with Liberia. Caritas Kenema supported Liberia refugees and internally displaced persons in Sierra Leone 1992-1994.

At this initial stage Caritas Kenema organized a small team of volunteers who went to the various entry points of these people to assess their plight. This information was compiled and sent to various humanitarian organizations requesting their prompt intervention. The categories of refugees and IDPs included vulnerable such as pregnant women, children and the aged. They arrived and settled in safe rural community locations bringing along with them just little food, clothing and other belongings which they could grab.

As we entered into 1993, the arrivals included the malnourished, the sick and even the wounded. Caritas Kenema entered into partnership with WFP to give emergency food support in the form of monthly dry ration of cereals, vegetable oil, beans and fish to the people. Additionally, Caritas provided medical support to the sick children aged and pregnant women.

As the wars in Liberia and Sierra Leone intensified the influx of refugees and IDPs grew steadily. Caritas Kenema's collaboration also spread to other partners such as CRS, Concern Universal, Caritas Germany and Cordaid. The government of Sierra Leone decided to host the IDPs and refugees, in various places within safe locations of the country. In the Kenema District there were four main camps each of these camps was home to over 10,000 IDPs. In early 2000 UNHCR officially opened an office in Kenema and Caritas Kenema was selected as one of its partners through whom they could reach out to both refugees and IDPs.

The unprecedented and vicious rebel war in Sierra Leone, since 1991, officially ended in January 2002. The disarmament and demobilization of former combatants was completed throughout the country earlier in the year. National parliamentary and presidential elections were successfully held in mid 2002. But the population is more mobile than ever before the war. Currently about 40% live in urban areas particularly young people. Urbanisation has potentially significant social and political consequences. In a context of increasing frustration at the lack of employment opportunities and access to basic services, small triggers can easily bring tensions to the surface. 

Another wave of refugees from Liberia

Also, since 2001, there were heavy influxes of Liberian refugees in Kenema area as a result of the resumption as well as intensification of war between the government of ex-president Charles Taylor and the rebel groups L.U.R.D and MODEL. It was estimated that 15000 refugees arrived into Sierra Leone due to the new conflict. The year 2003 also saw intensification in hostilities between the warring factions in Liberia.  Consequently there was an increase in the influx into Eastern Sierra Leone of refugees.   

International Migration

International migration-related links are significant, particularly as many people left Sierra Leone during the war. It is estimated that the Diaspora includes 200,000 in the UK and 200,000 in the USA. While many of these remit money back to relatives in the country the scale of these remittances is unknown although likely to represent an important injection of funds to the local economy. Some have been settled in Australia and in Europe. This does not include those who settled in West Africa, particularly Nigeria, Ghana and the Gambia.

According to UNICEF, child trafficking has increased since the end of the war, which left thousands of children displaced, orphaned and separated from family. Victims are both boys and girls. Both internal trafficking and trafficking abroad are occurring for a range of purposes including prostitution, early marriages and forced labour. There is however no reliable data on trafficking.

Movement of refugees/returnees 2003

In the year 2003 there was increase in the number of refugees and returnees that passed through Kenema Diocese. The number that passed through way stations includes the following:

a).  Refugee Movement

i.    Convoy total                                                     -          9837

ii.   Foot arrival total                                                -          1107

b). Returnees movement total                                  -          7572

c)  Residual case load                                              -          20

Grand total number of refugees                                -          10,944

Grand total number of returnees                               -          7572

Transfer cases

a)  Refugees transferred to camps                             -          10924

b)  Returnees transferred to places of origin               -          7572

Community services

a)  Number of vulnerable                                           -          8,662

b)  Number of separated children identified at the way station-  13

c)  Number of separated children re-unified                -          23       


Total 35 convoy movement during the year 2003.

Conclusion:      The many interconnected doors and windows of opportunity

i.   Education

Caritas Kenema undertook this Sub-Project with a view to assist a significant number of refugee children of vulnerable families whose education was prematurely disrupted/terminated by the civil war in 1998.  Attention was focused on those who were not enrolled in schools and on girls who had attained secondary school level. Out of 850 Liberian Refugee students/children in the Old Urban Caseload on caritas register for 2003/2004, 610 primary school children and 250 secondary school children had their education put back on course. With HCR support, Caritas Kenema paid school fees and provided regular school uniforms for the refugee students.

ii.   Urban Caseload - Adult Literacy

The aim of this Sub-Project was for refugees/adult learners to be able to read/write/do simple accounting/computing of figures which they would apply to the knowledge/skills learnt in their daily activities.

iii.   Library

The Library Programme was introduced/initiated to provide opportunity for refugee students and host community students to have access to reading materials, especially texts that were difficult to come by. Thus, the Sub-Project was aimed at facilitating learning and providing an avenue for refugee students and those in the host community to share ideas, learn from each other and leave as a community.

iv.   HIV/AIDS

Caritas joined the bandwagon in the implementation of HIV/AIDS prevention activities in the camps and the township of Kenema with effect from July, 2004 by raising awareness around HIV/AIDS, and increasing the capacity of refugee communities in the areas of HIV/AIDS prevention with the aim that refugees could play an important role in combating HIV/AIDS within their communities. The activities were also extended to host communities around refugee camps. The specific objective of this sub-project was to strengthen the already existing HIV/AIDS prevention programmes in refugee communities as well as in host communities.

v. Peace Education and Reconciliation

Refugees drifted into Sierra Leone by the civil war were a mixture of ages and different religious/traditional/cultural backgrounds, some of whom were perpetrators of different crimes committed during the war.

Caritas deemed it necessary to work towards harmonising the relationship among refugees through her Peace Education/Reconciliation Programme in the Camps. The Sub-Project was aimed at enriching the togetherness of refugees thorough peaceful means and mutual regard for each other thereby enabling them to participate in the process of rebuilding their shattered communities/societies.

vi.  Skills Training

This was a monumental sub-project designed to empower refugees to be able to shape/build their future so that they could become self-reliant.  The ingredients of the projects are such that by the end refugees will be able to give their attention to situations / problems that include obstacles to their self-fulfillment. It was also the aim of Caritas that the skills learnt by the refugees would be transferred to their counterparts who were not opportune to join the programme.

vii.  Health and Nutrition

Caritas and other medical agencies in the way stations collaborated to identify women in advanced pregnancy and refugees/returnees whose health demanded urgent medical attention. In addition Caritas engaged social workers and community services nurses who undertook HIV/GBV activities with the inmates of the way stations. About 1,126 returnees/refugees were sensitized.

viii.  Separated Children

Careful attention was also paid to identify Separated Children who were referred to Child Protection Agencies for re-unification with their families as soon as they were identified.

These community services were undertaken by 3 Social Workers engaged by Caritas.

ix. Repatriation

Caritas also effectively took part in the facilitation of Repatriation of Liberian Refugees from various camps and the urban areas from October - December 2004

x. Local Integration

Caritas Kenema implements a few local integration programmes. The goal of the implementation was to create a conducive environment in camp host communities for a peaceful life-long co-existence of refugees and host communities.

xi. The Victims of war

The diocese has had most impact is assistance and advocacy for the victims of war - war widows, orphans, amputees, victims of rape

xii Windows of Opportunities

Working with displaced people in the diocese (IDPs), living in camps - priests, religious, catechists and people in Guinea (because of language problems), assisting refugees in camps from Liberia - offered us tremendous opportunities to preach, catechise and witness to Christ by our presence to vulnerable people. This has resulted in making the church strong.