ORU REFUGEE CAMP: STORIES OF NEGLECT, DISEASE, DASHED HOPES

Filed in News by on July 18, 2010

Oru refugee camp: Stories of neglect, disease, dashed hopes
By SAMUEL AWOYINFA
Sunday, 18 Jul 2010

Scores of Sierra Leoneans and Liberians, who are still in Oru refugee camp in Ogun State even after its technical closure in 2007, tell SAMUEL AWOYINFA their stories of neglect, disease and dashed hopes

The Oru refugee camp in Ogun State, which provided temporary shelter for scores of Liberians and Sierra Leoneans in the heat of fierce wars that ravaged the countries some few years ago, is in the news again. Though the refugees claim that the camp was technically closed in 2007, they say what the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and other relevant bodies promised them on their local integration have only been granted in their breach.

Those who volunteer information to our correspondent at the camp state that they opted for local integration in 2007, which means that they prefer to stay back in Nigeria and move on with their lives. But they might be regretting their action.

The chairman of the Sierra Leonean refugees in the camp, Mr. Charles Lebbie and his Liberian counterpart, Mr. Mohammed Sackor, say that since 2007 when the UNHCR and the Federal Government declared the technical closure of the camp, it has been stories of neglect, diseases and dashed hopes.

They add that their plight has been made worse because the news of the closure had been well circulated among charitable organisations and institutions that had hitherto provided succour to them.

Lebbie says that before the technical closure, the refugees who had opted for local integration were promised some incentives by the UNHCR, among which were accommodation outside the camp, N150,000 each as micro finance loans among others.

He says, ”For the Sierra Leoneans that opted for local integration, all the incentives promised us by the UNHCR have not been fulfilled. Assuming you have five dependants and N112,500, they expected you to use that money to get accommodation, to feed yourself, to use it to start a business and to use it to send your children to school. Even if there is any medical problem, you use that money. This is a total breach of what we earlier agreed upon.

”Dec. 31, 2008 was to be the final phase of the technical closure of the camp, but nobody was moved out of here. Even the sensitisation that was supposed to take place in the community did not take place. The heads of the local communities who needed to be informed about the local integration process were not carried along.

”Even within one month the people have ‘eaten‘ the money. That is why we could not go anywhere; we still remain in our destitute condition. Assuming that they had given us accommodation in town, we could have used part of that money to start businesses. The women and children here are hungry and sick. We need help.”

Another Sierra Leonean in the camp, Mr. Mohamed Mansaray, who had been in the camp since year 2000, says, ”I got N75,000 from the UNHCR. With this amount I was expected to get accommodation for myself, find work for myself, in fact I have to do everything for myself. It was frustrating.

”I know what it costs to get a room in Oru, how much more Ijebu Ode. The money was grossly inadequate. This was not the agreement. The agreement was that they would take us out of the refugee camp and find us suitable accommodation among the people. And before we got the money some of us were hungry and some were sick, so they just used this money to take care of themselves.”

Mansaray says he works on construction sites in the neighbouring towns like Ijebu-Ode and Ago-Iwoye, where he earns money to feed himself and his Liberian born wife.

”It has been very tough, because we are forced to do some odd jobs which we were not used to in our country. Some of us have worked in the saw mill, block industry, labourers on construction sites; we were and are still doing this to make ends meet. Things are not easy for some of us who are married, and have children,” he adds.

”There are people with master‘s degrees here in the camp. We have been to the local government here, but what they have always told us is that even their own indigenes are yet to get job placement. So, it has not been easy.”

One of those who have master‘s degree in the camp is Sackor. He claims he possesses a master‘s degree in humanitarian and refugee studies. All his efforts to get a white collar job have not been successful.

He narrates his ordeal, ”Basically, the issue of lack of job has been our major problem here. I got my master‘s in humanitarian and refugee studies since 2005 here in Nigeria. Since then I have not been able to secure employment. Even when I approached an international organisation that has something to do with refugees they told me they could not give me a job since I am a beneficiary.

”In Nigeria everywhere I had applied for job, immediately I opened my mouth to talk, they say I am not a Nigerian and that again disqualifies me.”

He survives through the benevolence of his friends ”that we went to school together here in Nigeria. Anytime I approached them, they help me, because they know that I am not employed.”

Women are not left out of this ordeal. A Liberian, Blessing Freeman, notes that it‘s a Herculean task surviving in other people‘s country as a refugee. She had done some odd jobs in trying to eke a living.

”I was working at a saw-mill as a labourer, helping the owner to carry planks. Then I received N10 for each plank I carried. It was such a demeaning job, but I had no choice,” she moans.

She adds, ”I rely on the money realised from plaiting of hairs for the students of Olabisi Onabanjo University, because some of them stay in Oru town. At times I make as much as N3,000 per day, but since the school authorities have reduced the number of student intakes, it has affected my business. The number of students who come to plait their hair has greatly reduced.”

Her colleague in the trade, who identifies herself as Princess Zapa, adds that for two weeks now, she has only plaited hair for only two clients. She has a daughter who attends a private nursery school in

Ijebu Igbo. ”I have to pay her school fees, all from this trade. It is really tough out here,” she says.

Another Liberian, Mr. John Zigla-Gbanja, who came to Nigeria in 2001, says, ”It is God that has been sustaining us. It is not easy for one to have children and one does not have the means to provide for them. We have relied on whatever meagre resources we could found around here to survive.

”I‘m 58 but I still go about to climb palm trees to get palm nuts for banga. Our young girls have gone into prostitution, because we are not able to feed them. The highest number of people who had died in this camp are the younger ones. Some were brought in from Lagos with illness, some went to the beach and got drowned, some were allegedly bewitched and there is no more medical attention from anywhere, they die and we bury them here.”

Lebbie rates the Nigerian government high for accommodating them, but he‘s not happy with the downturn in the fortunes of the camp and its inhabitants.

The camp looks unkempt, with scrubs and weed, sprouting almost in every corner, breeding all sorts of dangerous reptiles. Most of the buildings in the camp are also becoming derelict, with some having their roofs weather-beaten. Some of them look like an abandoned property.

Lebbie adds that attending to the medical needs of the refugees is another challenge since the Red Cross and other medical personnel that had hitherto taken care of camp residents had had their services withdrawn.

He commends the Ijebu North Local Government for the upkeep of the Refugee camp primary school, which their children attend.

Though some of the refugees say they will love to return to their home countries, they are being cautious of ”the fragile peace which exists there.”

A female member of staff of the UNCHR in Lagos, said, “I think there is cessation on the case of the Sierra Leoneans.”

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  1. Generation Bass » ORU (Nigerian Kuduro) | September 21, 2010
  1. Phartomie Oluwaseyi. O says:

    The information is quite educative. I was a student at the Ogun state university as at the time of the operation of the camp. Suitable Information

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