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Thursday, 28 February, 2002, 19:27 GMT
African refugees condemn sex abuses
Refugees fleeing the conflict in Sierra Leone
Many refugees are still afraid to speak out
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By Jonathan Paye-Layleh in Monrovia
line
The revelations in the Save the Children's report of aid for sex have startled many Liberians and dominated discussions amongst the tens of thousands of Sierra Leonean refugees here during the last 48 hours.


I am shocked to hear that people entrusted with the confidence to assist people harmed by war have been doing more harm to them

Arthur Say, Liberian Deputy Health Minister
There was an angry reaction when I talked to a cross-section of refugees at the old Voice of America (VOA) relay station a few kilometres outside of Monrovia.

"We have been seeing and hearing about these unwholesome practices," said 47-year-old Mustafa Samah, talking about the issuance of food to teenage refugee girls in exchange for sex.

"But as refugees there is nothing much we can do about it."

He described the acts as ugly, adding that "our women and children don't have to suffer themselves and sell their bodies for food items that are in fact sent for us".

'Discouraging' report

Josephine Sitah, a young Liberian lady married to a Sierra Leonean refugee lashed out at aid workers involved in such acts.

UNHCR aid workers in Guinea
Many refugees depend on aid agencies

She said "the body of a woman is a temple of God, and should be kept clean". She urged girls who have suffered the scandal to "leave everything with God".

A 37-year-old breastfeeding women, who preferred to remain anonymous, said: "We saw plenty people doing these things to young girls, but it is not time to call names and show people."

When I asked a representative of Save the Children at the VOA camp, Lahai Samai, whether he thought the "sex for food" scandal was still going on, he said, it was difficult for people to divert from such attitudes because punitive measures have never been instituted against those caught in the act.

The head of the Liberian Commission on Refugees and Displaced Persons, Sam Brown, described the report as "discouraging".

Shock

He told me his commission has made it a point that any employees found guilty of demanding sex in exchange of service will have to, as he put it, "mortgage their jobs and leave".

refugee girl
Children are among the most vulnerable

Deputy Health Minister Arthur Say said he was surprised that Liberia, as a Christian nation, could be included on the scandal list.

"Liberians have a reputation of helping people in difficult circumstances," Minister Say said.

"I am shocked to hear that people entrusted with the confidence to assist people harmed by war have been doing more harm to them," he added.

Although the names of local non-governmental organisations whose staff are accused in the Save the Chilren's report have not been made public, some of the local NGO's have already started putting up defence and exonerating themselves.

The group Liberians United to Serve Humanity (LUSH) distributed food on behalf of the United Nations during the height of the Liberian crisis.

The Supervisor of LUSH at the VOA refugee camp, Boakai Kandakai, told me he was shocked by the sex for food report, but maintained that none of his employees on the field have ever been involved in such.

"Our concern is how to get relief to people in need. And any employees caught violating the rights of refugees in any form are sacked."

Although the refugees I talked to at the VOA camp all expressed outrage over revelations in the Save the Children report, none of them could identify themselves as direct victims of the scandal.

"This is obvious," one refugee remarked, adding that "no-one will want to admit to giving out her body for food even if it did happen."

See also:

27 Feb 02 | Africa
Aid-for-sex children speak out
26 Feb 02 | Africa
Child refugee sex scandal
13 Feb 02 | Africa
Sierra Leone refugees go home
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