The Dilemma of Liberian Refugees

By Wollor Topor

The Perspective
March 29, 2001

Forced migration has been a phenomenon in recent human history, both internal and external displacement of people, escaping conflicts in their native land and seeking asylum-freedom and liberty. The cases in point are: on the onset of the Gulf War, over two million Kurds were forced into exile; the Rwandan Hutus exodus was much rapid where over million sought political asylum in neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo; then in Kosovo, within a matter of hours close to half a million people were uprooted. All these situations have one thing in common: most of the refugees have returned to their respective countries to pick up the pieces and begin a new life.

But Liberians are still forced to live in refugee centers and displaced camps in neighboring countries. In these places, their productive skills have become less applicable and the competition for resources becomes greater; community structures and traditional authority are weakened; society becomes groupless with less cultural identity, while the potential for mutual help and social networks are reduced.

In most instances, forced migration is caused by conflict. The root cause of the Liberian conflict is the unequal distribution and improper utilization of the "nation's wealth" which is skewed to the socioeconomic and political elite while the vast majority were and are still living in acute poverty. The poor are also regarded and unmoving, considered as unwitting tools that can be politically exploited for the elite and so-called ruling class and now crooks. One noticeable example is the clandestine repatriation of refugees by Mr. Taylor; when he trucked Liberian refugees from these camps into Liberia during the 1997 elections and claimed to have given each $20 dollars as the price for their vote. One should be mindful of his tactics-"Taiwan rice politics"- in the coming elections, history should not repeat itself. He cannot continue using us for his political and economic gains. In order to succeed, it requires voters' awareness in line with the voters' drive in meeting their needs on a sustainable basis, which are to motivate them to be converted to the reality of our time.

The crisis that brought Taylor to power started in the 1980's, the situation disintegrated to "no growth, no development" that led to dissatisfaction of the Liberian people to have supported "Ghankay Taylor-the black Jesus". Mr. Taylor promised to have the answers to the following problems: housing, employment, enough nutritional food to meet Liberia's growing population, adequate fresh water, electricity and education-where every Liberian child of school going age would have a computer. Up till now he has failed to deliver on his promises. He is not only going to be judged for breaking jail in the USA or judged by the International Court of Justice for atrocity and looting, but also Liberians need to prosecute him for failure to fulfill the promises he made.

Apart from the present bleak state of affairs in Liberia, Liberia is blessed in a sense that despite over 20 ethnic groups, no one ethnic group is large enough or has the land area that has sufficient natural resources to emerge in becoming an individual sovereign state, unlike other nations where large ethnic groups that are fighting for sovereignty. This means, with such a small range of homogenous dispersal, Liberians can easily put the pieces back together through unity and cohesiveness in building a "wholesome functional societ".

Speaking from experience, our being in these refugee camps is not only because of insecurity in Liberia, but a major concern is after losing everything in the war and having stayed in these camps, how are we to start a new life? This is a very concern. On the other hand, the first and foremost reason for escaping Liberia was to preserve our lives, when there was no government, now with some form of "political system", can our voyage back to Papa's land-Liberia be a safe one? I am quite aware most of us have acquired some productive skills and if the opportunities and proper conditions are put in place we could work hard to earn our "daily bread" in our native land. But it is unfortunate that our President has selected the disintegration strategy as a mandate to sack the nation's wealth and even the region.

I am very sure that Taylor does not have the technocrats in developing the national program for the integration of returnees. Additionally, Taylor fears our repatriation for social integration on the grounds that returnees could mount become a problem against his interest through the rise of a social movement. Definitely, the "street smart villain" is aware of this reality. President Taylor knows such a huge massive flight of Liberians have exposed them to some levels of awareness as to our responsibilities to the State and what is expected from the State for the citizenry. Then again, funds such as those from the maritime program and other revenues which could be used by the Government of Liberia as its share to the international community-to serve as incentive in hastening the integration, is being misused to buy more arms to pillage the region's natural resources for Taylor and his sinister lords. Moreover, the "mischievous" behavior of President Taylor and the GOL lack of interest has stagnated the speedy repatriation of refugees.

The Rwanda experience is worth emulating here. The Rwandese people buried their differences with genuine reconciliation and were able to work together in rebuilding their nation with the help of the international community in providing housing schemes and new socio-economic activities that accelerated the repatriation process.

Ghana serves as another example. After the 1996 election of Rawlings, a permanent opposition politician in Ghana said, "Ghana is here for ever but Rawlings can never rule for hundred years; there is no need to follow the Liberian example in destroying our hard earned business establishments". One cannot nitpick this statement; President Rawlings has attained some socioeconomic growth, and made Ghana to become the gateway to democracy in sub-Sahara Africa. Literally, Liberia has never developed an economic class; the economy has always been in the hands of aliens. And this was implicit with the Liberians attitude during the days of Taylor's self-styled "revolution"; "Let Taylor come, he is not coming for me, I have got no business to lose". I can tell every Liberian that you are losing all what you have, the natural resources (diamond gold, rubber, timber etc.), human dignity, freedom and the feelings of belonging to a nation. Why should we lose our citizenship for a refugee status, where living is at the mercy of God- no work and no money? Sinec the Bible says, "God created man in his own image", in no way I can agree with anyone that we do not have the potential to change our country.

Yes! There is a freedom of movement, worship, speech and conscience but yet as refugees, our full representation is merely reduced to a "fourth class guest" of the host countries. As refugees, we are not to partake in national issues, even if the Liberian leadership is not doing the right thing. Are we to sit in these camps and do away with our rights to vote? Let us be mindful, that the only political power we have to exercise that which will satisfy our departed beloved relatives and friends who have sacrificed their lives for the freedom of our "glorious land" is to actively participate in the political process. We can only exercise these rights in Liberia, and nowhere else for that matter.

Our rights to vote are more powerful than any of the Taylor's arsenal in the Sarpo National Park or those young children who he keeps misleading he called his army/securities. We have seen the power of voting in bringing about political transformation in Ghana, the USA, even dictator Slobodan Milesovic of Yugoslavia. It was the power of the ballot that brought about these changes. I do trust we can exercise this right in the coming election on our native soil.

Being in these camps is not the same as being at home. It is more difficult - for instance, one has to tumble over the "waves of life" in finding his/her own basic needs be it food, shelter, clothing and medication. And due to donor fatigue, Liberian refugees are no more a priority to the international donor community. These camps are becoming an inconvenience, unsafe, with poor sanitation and deteriorating dwelling conditions. Relatively, there is little or no education for our kids, less parental guidance for our kids, who are to build tomorrow's Liberia. However, we are grateful to our host nations that continue to share their meager resources with us.

Nevertheless, how can Liberians and other victims in the region be helped in order to return to their motherland? Despite the marginalized nature of being refugees with the fear and hesitation to return home, there are still opportunities to develop and "strengthen" our capacity, such as organizing community power and grassroots democracy. Through the countervailing partnerships, we can build trust and reduce our fear and hesitation in returning home. We do appreciate "handouts" but what is needed is consciousness for institutional empowerment that will eventually make us stand on our own feet in our land. Such a program should involve us in the planning, management and evaluation process. This approach should lead to self-development and self-reliance. For the desired impact, it also needs the assistance of the relevant United Nations Agencies and individuals of good will.

We are cognizant of the fact that such endeavor cannot be implemented without alliances with the power that be - both at home and the host nations. We are of the conviction that neither the host countries nor our leadership will reject such worthy venture. The host countries will feel relieved of our refugee population present competition over their meager resources.

As a place to start from, I would recommend Ghana's Buduburam Refugee Camp to be an experimental ground; the reasons being that the Camp is well organized and stable unlike others in the neighboring nations, where Mr. Taylor is still muscling for wealth. This is a challenge to every peace-loving nation and individuals as well as Liberians to get totally involved in this undertaking for the love of Liberia. Liberians should rise up as one people with hearts and hands to liberate our beloved country from the hands of those thieves, if not, history will chide us again.

For subscription information, go to:
or send e-mail to: