There were jubilant scenes on Thursday, 22 September, in Sass Town, Bomi County as construction started of 100 low cost housing units for former Sierra Leonean refugees who have decided to locally integrate in Liberia. The groundbreaking ceremony was witnessed by Liberian government officials, local authorities, UN personnel, implementing partners and beneficiaries.
Located about 20 miles from Monrovia on the highway to the border with Sierra Leone, the Sass Town community, referring to Sierra Leoneans as their brothers and sisters, has transferred 75 acres of land to the Liberia Refugee Repatriation and Resettlement Commission (LRRRC) for the construction of the two-room housing units, which are expected to be ready for habitation, within six months. Twenty percent of this will go to the host community.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is funding the project which is being implemented by Child Fund and the Liberia Islamic Union for Reconstruction and Development (LIURD).
In addition, as agreed in the Memorandum of Understanding signed by the LRRRC and the Sass Town community, the UNHCR will be funding 10 community projects some of which include the construction of a three-classroom annex to the Sass Town Public School; a community centre; a two-km road; and a three-room attachment building to the Sass Town Community Clinic.
Thousands of Sierra Leoneans fled to Liberia during that country’s 11-year-old civil war which ended in 2002. Large-scale voluntary repatriation by UNHCR and partners ended in 2004.
However, some 3,500 Sierra Leoneans still remain in Liberia, 2,100 of whom have opted for local integration, including naturalization. During the ongoing local integration, UNHCR provides the former refugees with shelter, livelihood support and legal assistance, among others. On 31 December 2008, the Cessation Clause, which is when someone’s refugee status comes to an end, was declared for Sierra Leonean refugees.
Added to Sass Town, a total of 530 housing units had been funded by the UN refugee agency through the LRRRC and partners at Bensonville (82) and Blamacee (150) in Monsterrado County, and Sinje (223) and Tienni (75) in Grand Cape Mount County. Twenty percent of the houses were allocated to host communities in addition to the improvement of existing social facilities and the provision of new ones.
While local integration is going on in Liberia, Liberian refugees in Sierra Leone are also going through the same process. More than 900 housing units have already been constructed in that country providing shelter for hundreds of Liberian refugees who have decided to locally integrate.
There are currently more than 8,000 Liberian refugees in Sierra Leone who are part of about 60,000 Liberian refugees living in different countries in the West African Sub-region. A Cessation Clause for Liberian refugees is expected to be declared by mid-2012.