Sierra Leonean refugees returning from Guinea; whether children who were orphaned during the war and who are registered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) are receiving support [SLE39626.E]

The United States Committee for Refugees (USCR) Country Report: Sierra Leone provides the following account of refugee flows from Sierra Leone:

More than 185,000 Sierra Leoneans were refugees and asylum seekers at the end of 2001. These included approximately 100,000 in Guinea, at least 60,000 in Liberia, about 10,000 in Gambia, some 2,000 in Nigeria, about 2,000 in Ghana, more than 2,000 in Côte d'Ivoire, nearly 2,000 in Mali, an estimated 1,000 in various other African countries, and some 8,000 new asylum seekers in Western industrialized countries.
An estimated 600,000 or more Sierra Leoneans remained internally displaced. Tens of thousands of displaced persons returned to their homes during the year, while an estimated 80,000 Sierra Leonean refugees repatriated (2002).

In addition, with specific reference to returnees from Guinea, the USCR report states that:

[a]lthough the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) judged Sierra Leone to be unsafe and unprepared to absorb large numbers of returnees, about 30,000 refugees returned from Guinea as part of an organized repatriation program meant to help refugees escape hostilities in Guinea. An estimated 50,000 or more refugees repatriated spontaneously, without assistance, from Guinea and Liberia.
In early 2001, UNHCR considered the option of arranging "safe corridors" through RUF [Revolutionary United Front] areas to repatriate Sierra Leonean refugees seeking to leave Guinea. After intense opposition to the plan by international relief organizations, UNHCR dropped the strategy. Instead, up to half of all returnees repatriated by boat along the coast of West Africa.
About 80 percent of all registered returnees immediately became internally displaced in Sierra Leone because they could not reach their homes safely, according to a UN estimate ... (ibid.).

However, on 22 March 2002, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) announced that land routes from Guinea into Sierra Leone had opened for the first time following an agreement with Guinean authorities that would allow the UNHCR to convoy up to 1,000 refugees twice a week while another 500 per week would continue to return by sea. The overland repatriations were eventually suspended for 42 days as a result of logistical problems and by August 2002 the UNHCR announced that 42,000 Sierra Leonean refugees remained in Guinea (United States 9 Oct. 2002). As well, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) states in its 9 October 2002 "Complex Emergency Situation Report" for the Mano River Countries (Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone) that "[a]though 2001 brought improved security in Guinea and Sierra Leone, an upsurge in fighting in Liberia continues to threaten the stability of the region."

For additional information on repatriation efforts to Sierra Leone from Guinea including reintegration and country conditions please consult the attached USCR Country Report: Sierra Leone (2002). As well, current and regularly updated information on the situation of Sierra Leonean refugees and internally displaced persons is available online (USCR 2002; UNHCR 2002; Global IDP Sept. 2002; Relief Web 2002).

Regarding the situation of Sierra Leonean refugee children, the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) states the following:

The rebel war in Sierra Leone has affected the lives of thousands of children through constant displacement, exposure to abduction and abuse, loss of family members and continuous violations of their basic human rights. Over 10,000 children have been separated from their families, including some 5,000 who have been abducted and conscripted into the armed forces. Thousands await reunification with their families and communities (n.d.).

Although not specifically mentioning orphaned children, UNICEF is working with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to support the Child Protection Network (CPN) coordinated by the Sierra Leonean Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender and Children's Affairs (UNICEF n.d.). In addition, UNICEF is running a variety of programs to support children affected by the war including "emergency care centres, foster families and group homes where children can go while their families are being traced and contacted" (ibid.).

Various national and international NGOs are managing specific programs for children orphaned as a result of the war including the Sierra Leone Women's Movement for Peace, the International Development, Orphanages and Vocational Education Association, All As One, the Leonenet Street Children Project, and the Children's Relief Trust (Sierra Leone Web n.d.). For summaries of these programs please consult Sierra Leone Web (ibid.). In addition, the Displaced Children and Orphans Fund (DCOF) received US$1,750,000 in 2001 from USAID (United States 2002) for its programming in Sierra Leone to "strengthen the capacity of families and communities to provide care, support, and protection for orphans, unaccompanied minors, and war-affected children" (ibid. 9 Aug 2002).

Although no reports of UNHCR programs designed specifically for orphans could be found among the sources consulted, a 1999 Human Rights Watch (HRW) report titled Forgotten Children of War; Sierra Leonean Refugee Children in Guinea provides an overview of the situation faced by children in refugee camps within Guinea. Please consult the attached section of this HRW report entitled "Protection of Separated Children" which includes an evaluation of the role of the UNHCR and its efforts to provide support for "separated" and "unaccompanied" children.

For additional information on the impact of the UNHCR's activities in meeting the rights and protection needs of refugee children including unaccompanied and separated children, please consult Meeting the Rights and Protection Needs of Refugee Children: An Independent Evaluation of the Impact of UNHCR's Activities prepared by the Evaluation and Policy Analysis Unit (EPAU) of the UNHCR. The full report can be consulted online at

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim to refugee status or asylum. Please find below the list of additional sources consulted in researching this Information Request.


Global IDP. September 2002. "Sierra Leone; Profile Summary." [Accessed 23 Oct. 2002]

Human Rights Watch. 1999. Forgotten Children of War; Sierra Leonean Refugee Children in Guinea. [Accessed 28 Oct. 2002]

Relief Web. 2002. "Sierra Leone." [Accessed 23 Oct. 2002]

Sierra Leone Web. n.d. "Non-Governmental Organisations and Associations." [Accessed 25 Oct. 2002]

United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF). n.d. "Working to Protect Children in Sierra Leone." [Accessed 25 Oct. 2002]

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). 2002. "Mid-Year Progress Report 2002." [Sierra Leone]. [Accessed 23 Oct. 2002]

_____. May 2002. Meeting the Rights and Protection Needs of Refugee Children: An Independent Evaluation of the Impact of UNHCR's Activities. [Accessed 25 Oct. 2002]

_____. 22 March 2002. "Sierra Leone: First Repatriation Convoy to Use New Land Routes from Guinea." [Accessed 22 Oct. 2002]

United States (US). US Agency for International Development (USAID). 9 October 2002. "Mano River Countries (Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone) - Complex Emergency Situation Report #1 (FY 2003)." [Accessed 25 Oct. 2002]

_____. 9 August 2002. "Displaced Children and Orphans Fund & Patrick J. Leahy War Victims Fund." [Accessed 25 Oct. 2002]

_____. 2002. "Sierra Leone; Activity Data Sheet." [Accessed 25 Oct. 2002]

United States Committee for Refugees (USCR). 2002. Country Report: Sierra Leone. [Accessed 23 Oct. 2002]


Human Rights Watch. 1999. Forgotten Children of War; Sierra Leonean Refugee Children in Guinea. "Protection of Separated Children." [Accessed 28 Oct. 2002]

United States Committee for Refugees (USCR). 2002. Country Report: Sierra Leone. [Accessed 23 Oct. 2002]

Additional Sources Consulted

IRB Databases


Internet sites, including:

Africa Online

BBC Africa

Campaign for Good Governance

Global IDP

Human Rights Watch (HRW)

International Christian Concern

Relief Web

Save the Children (International)

Sierra Leone Web

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)

U.S. Committee for Refugees (USCR)

World News Connection (WNC)

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