Canada/Sierra Leone: the Refugee Issue

26 October 2006 at 20:49 | 644 views

Our General Editor, Abayomi Charles Roberts(photo), arrived in Canada in September 2001. A former newspaper editor with EXPO TIMES in Freetown, Sierra Leone, Roberts has a revealing take on the refugee resettlement issue and Canada’s current stance on the situation in Sierra Leone.
Please read on.

By Abayomi Charles Roberts
Edmonton, Canada

There is an unspoken trend between war torn countries and western democracies like Australia, Canada, Italy, Norway, Sweden and the USA where the latter have refugees and similarly affected victims come over to their countries to start new lives.

In the case of my home country, Sierra Leone, it seems that nation has dropped in the global rankings of emergencies, mainly due to the sustained cessation of hostilities in that West African country.

Truly, the war in Sierra Leone has ended but the factors which preceded it and which arguably may have caused it still remain. That is to say the vast economic disparities and social deficiencies still remain.

So, while the scores of people who have since migrated now have an enviable chance to start life afresh, it has not all been rosy for them.
Now they daily contend with the pressures of living in the Diaspora and having to cope with and endure the incessant pressures from their loved ones who are still living in the lands of their birth.

On the one hand they are faced with the challenges of making the best of opportunities offered by their new home countries in the First World; while also having to cope with the perennial demands of their desperate folks who are still caught in the dire mess ‘back home,’ on the other hand.

A closer examination at the issue should unravel several myths and discrepancies, which, once scrutinized, should expose a seemingly insurmountable problem which can be helped with timely communication and liaison.

For instance, many observers might go with the idea that the Refugee-Immigration trend is just about an unpalatable ‘brain drain’ that can never benefit the Third World.

However, one good thing is that these recent migrants have consistently been able to squeeze from meager earnings to siphon dollars/pounds/etc to their needy and deserving folks back in the countries of their birth/origin. I suspect established Money Transfer channels would confirm that there has been a disproportionate surge in transfers in the last 10 or so years.

Coming back to the basic premise, as in the case of Sierra Leone, the governments in these developed countries need to be more vigilant in discerning the truth from political PR (Public Relations) gimmicks.

Take the case of a host of Sierra Leonean athletes who disappeared during an international sporting assignment in Australia. As often in the past they each recounted their respective ordeals in making a case for asylum. For its part, government officials in Freetown (Sierra Leone) countered their claims across the board, perhaps more to save face than anything else.

In the end, I learnt, The Canberra (Australia) government granted most, if not all of the athletes some sort of extended stay in ’Down Under’. I believe Australia uncovered the underlying truth about the situation in Sierra Leone.

So what is it? You are entitled to ask.

Well, while the leaders are scrambling for votes in Presidential and Parliamentary polls due early next year; the timing of which had to be pressured into schedule by the international community (led by The UK), they are understandably prone to paint Sierra Leone as a paradise which had been short-changed by a decade of rebel warfare. Fair enough!

What they won’t say or admit is that politics and its shortcomings are the very ingredients for the war; justifiably or otherwise. Rebel leader, Foday Sankoh (now deceased) and his cohorts may have been incompetent or too vindictive but the fact remains that their motive/agenda was palatable to the suffering populace across Sierra Leone - to the extent that their claims sounded more like music rather than a doomsday war cry.

I could go on and on. What I want to say here is that Canada, the USA and EU countries should take the cue of Australia. Check out the hype and see for yourselves.

I know for sure that UN Secretary-General, Dr. Kofi Annan, upon visiting Sierra Leone earlier this year, declared that that country is still plagued with the problems which preceded - if not triggered the war - even as he urged economic and democratic reforms.

The way I see it, Canada should listen to Sec-Gen. Annan, rather than Vice-President Solomon Berewa, and upgrade Sierra Leone on her(Canadian) scale for refugee/assistance programs.

It is the prudent move to make at this time, O Canada!