Ivorian refugees in Liberia honour their culture
They vibrantly celebrated World Refugee Day with songs and dances
BAHN REFUGEE CAMP, SACLEPEA, LIBERIA, 20 June 2015 (UNHCR) – The whistle marked the beginning of the men’s football match, which followed the women’s game. Refugees from the camps of Bahn and PTP competed against each other for the shiny gold-color cup during one of Liberia’s World Refugee Day (WRD) celebrations last weekend. For an hour, players from the two camps raced across the arid field hoping to score a goal or two. Hundreds of spectators cheered from the sidelines as they watched their teams play for the winning prize. Among them were refugees from the camp, UNHCR and partner staff, including from the Liberia Refugee Repatriation and Resettlement Commission (LRRRC), members of the Liberian Government, and representatives of the international diplomatic and donor community, including the U.S. Ambassador to Liberia.
“J‘espère que mon équipe va gagner le match’’, said one Ivorian refugee. ‘’Non, la mienne*!”, replied another, smiling in good-sport spirit. One, two goals were scored, leading to penalties. Five goals later, a cheering wave rapidly invaded the football field to celebrate the Bahn’s team win of the gold cup with 3-2 as the final score. Hundreds of women, men and children happily clapping and singing along in joy then led the way to the second part of their celebration. The refugees had prepared the venue, decorating and setting up the place to welcome their guests. Cardboard giraffes, elephants and pigs, soaps, dresses and cloths, all handmade by the refugees living in Bahn camp as part of their vocational training program implemented by the Adventist Development and Relief Agency in the camp, were exhibited and ready to be sold.
At the end of the game, the players quickly took their places to listen to the officials’ remarks. “I call upon everyone here for a moment of silence for those persons at risk who lost their lives whilst seeking safety, for those who continue to resist in their country and to those who have found refuge in another country”, said Ferdinand Mekapeu, chairperson of the Ivorian refugees in Bahn camp. His remarks were followed by a standing ovation from the public. “We may not have the opportunity of returning to our country, our hopes are that we are but for those of us who want to stay in Liberia, we wish to be locally integrated with better living conditions, and we hope to have access to naturalization procedures and security”.
Speaking in French and English, the UNHCR Acting Representative Ioli Kimyaci welcomed the guests and acknowledged the situation faced by many Ivorian refugees present at the celebration. “Most of the Liberians having been refugees themselves have opened their arms and welcomed you all”, she said. “I would appeal to you today to take the example of those Liberians, ex-refugees in most of the West African nations, who returned home to rebuild their nation. Liberia today is a peaceful nation and you can follow that same example. Go home to rebuild the Ivory Coast you dream of: A secure place where everyone lives in harmony”.
The refugees also participated in the WRD programme by sharing several traditional cultural performances, including dances and songs displaying their colorful outfits and joyful personalities. “Fiers Ivoiriens, le pays nous appelle. Si nous avons, dans la paix, ramené la liberté, notre devoir sera d’être un modèle”** sang a four-year-old boy and his six-year-old brother in recognition of their Ivorian background.
Counselor Abla Gadegbeku Williams, the Executive Director of the Liberia Refugee Repatriation and Resettlement Commission representing Liberia’s government, noted the importance, obligation and responsibility the government has to protect refugees. “World Refugee Day 2015 […] by proclamation of the Government of the Republic of Liberia, has been declared a Working Holiday, to be celebrated nationwide, signifying Government’s solidarity and care in light of the plight of refugees and all other persons of concern universally”, she stressed. The evening came to an end, and the winning teams received their prizes, along with certificates for some refugees. Children and teenagers who won in other sports activities in the past days during WRD celebration also received prizes.
UNHCR and its partners will continue to support refugees in the three camps that remain in Liberia (Little Wlebo, PTP and Bahn), with initiatives that will provide them with better living conditions whilst they will be voluntarily repatriating or decide to integrate locally within the community. In the Bahn camp, UNHCR’s partner Africa Humanitarian Action is providing refugees with primary health care through the clinic they are operating. Around 360 people, both refugees and members of the host community, visit the Bahn camp clinic every week. It provides maternal and early childhood care, psychosocial support, treats patients in the outpatient consultation unit including for cases of malaria, respiratory tract infections, sexually transmitted diseases, and provides essential medicines, nutritional items, mosquito nets and new-born kits.
Additional celebrations were held in Monrovia, and in the PTP and Little Wlebo refugee camps to celebrate the strength and resilience of the thousands of refugees currently hosted by Liberia. Liberia hosts around 40,000 refugees, 5,364 of whom are currently at the Bahn refugee camp. 289 are living in the Montserrado County as urban refugees. 77% of the refugees in Liberia fled from Côte d’Ivoire due to the violence sparked by the contested 2010 presidential elections.
* “I hope my team wins the game!”, “No, mine!”
** This is an excerpt from the Ivorian National Anthem. Translation: “Proud citizens of the Ivory Coast, the country call us. If we have brought back liberty peacefully, it will be our duty to be an example.”