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"Liberia is unsafe for Mandingo refugees"---UNHCR

4 August 2006 at 20:40 | 1204 views

By Abu B. Shaw, Vanguard London Bureau Chief

Liberia asylum seekers of the Mandingo ethnic group will not be safe
if they return to their country, according to latest findings of the United
Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR).

Ironically, this development is good news for all Liberian Mandingos
currently seeking asylum in the West. Other Liberian refugees of different
ethnicity feel this is a unfair development as their chances to be
granted refugee status are becoming increasingly slimmer.

In London, a Liberian Mandingo refugee, who prefers to be known only as
Sillah told the Patriotic Vanguard that UNHCR’s finding will obviously help
him in his asylum claim. Sillah, who drew my attention to this story,
has already been refused asylum status twice by the Home Office.

statement is a great solace for me and other Liberians in similar
circumstances,” Sillah noted.

UNHCR’s position on members of the Mandingo tribe in Liberia is
cause for concern howvever. The UN body believe some segments of the Liberian society
describe the Mandingos as non-indigenous migrants.

Being followers of the
muslim religion in a predominantly Christian nation did not help the
Mandingos in Liberia either.

Additionally, members of the Mandingo ethnic group were considered fervent
supporters of the despotic regime of late Samuel K. Doe and the ULIMO-K
rebel faction led by Alhaji G.V. Kromah, the Mandingo warlord(photo).

And most recently the support for
LURD also led by another Mandingo rebel leader Sheku Konneh by some Mandingos has not helped matters. As a result,
individual members of the Mandingo ethnic group might face harassment and
discriminatory treatment due to the perception that they are ‘outsiders’ and
former supporters of the above controversial groupings.

The situation of the Mandingos, according to UNHCR, is further compounded by
the fact that unlike the other ethnic groups in Liberia, their attachment to
specific regionslike Nimba or Lofa counties within Liberia is rather tenuous and weak.

The discrimination against Mandingos in Liberia remains glaring. Their Liberian citizenship
is often contested, which makes it difficult for Mandingos to regain their
property rights. Generally, members of the Mandingo tribe are considered as
foreigners who cannot own land in Liberia, according to the Liberian

It is generally the belief held by Liberians that the Mandingo ethnic group
in Liberia emigrated from Guinea. Most Liberians are of the opinion that
members of the Mandingo ethnic group who emigrated from Guinea may have
acquired the Liberian nationality through naturalisation, thus second class citizens.However there are thousands of Mandingos born and bred in Liberia and many of them hold prominent positions in both the public and private sectors. Both it is also a fact that many other Liberians don’t consider them true Liberians.

This is one of the reasons people like Alhaji Kromah, who hails from Lofa county, took up arms during the Liberian civil war as he saw thousands of his people being slaughtered by the Charles Taylor and Prince Johnson militias.This is also the main reason Sheku Konneh, another Mandingo warlord, set up the LURD militia that helped to oust Taylor.

In the light of the above, the UNHCR suggested that respective governments
in the West should thoroughly examine asylum requests in a fair and effective
way based on the criteria in the 1951 UN Convention and where applicable
Article 1.1 of the 1969 OAU Convention.

In this respect, the UNHCR maintains, asylum claims made by members of the
Mandingo ethnic group in particular should be given careful consideration as
their safety will not be guaranteed back home.

Since October 2004, UNHCR and its partners have assisted some 58,000
Liberian refugees to voluntarily repatriate. More than 150,000 Liberian
refugees have spontaneously returned since July 2003. An estimated 315,000
Internally Displaced Persons IDP individuals, who were living in various
camps in Liberia, have been assisted to return home, according to UNHCR

The return and integration of refugees and IDPs is a priority for the newly
elected Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf (first elected female
president in Africa).

In the light of the positive development in Liberia,
it is a blow for the government, elected in November 2005, to hear that
Liberian Mandingos are not safe if they return home.

Overall, the security situation remains relatively safe and stable with a
15,000 strong UN force deployed throughout Liberia.