Magazine article Forced Migration Review

Displacement Limbo in Sierra Leone

Magazine article Forced Migration Review

Displacement Limbo in Sierra Leone

Article excerpt

When does war end and peace begin? When a peace accord is signed? When the intervention forces leave and those responsible are put on trial? Or when civilians can return home and resume their livelihoods?

In Sierra Leone, eleven years after the signing of the Lomé peace accords, which eventually brought a chaotic, decade-long civil war to a formal close, the war continues for a group of people who came to symbolise the horror of the fighting. These are the amputees who, during the war, had their hands or other parts of limbs amputated by rebel forces. If displacement is ended by the free choice to return home or resettle, then many of this group are still displaced.

The stories of some of the amputees I met in Kenema town in eastern Sierra Leone between September 2007 and March 2008 illustrate four dimensions that link their current settlement 'choice' to external factors deriving directly from the war: first, the original violence and forced removal from homes and villages; second, the disabilities and wounds suffered, many remaining untreated and at risk of further deterioration; third, ongoing poverty linked to destroyed infrastructure and a devastated economy, exacerbated by personal physical restrictions; and fourth, unique psychological and psychosocial needs linked to the nature of their injuries.

The Kenema Amputees and War Wounded Welfare Association was established to support the basic needs of the wounded and to campaign for their rights. Its 62 members range in age from 13 to 65 and before the war came from a variety of towns and villages and had a range of occupations and livelihoods: painters, mechanics, church pastors, students and farmers. Only a handful are now independent in meeting their basic needs, most relying on the charity of friends or family or sometimes strangers and a smattering of NGO assistance.

With no or extremely curtailed ability to generate income, and with unmet health and education needs and severely limited mobility, shelter is an urgent need but one that the amputees cannot meet on their own.

There are also acute mental and psychological issues that for many of the group reinforce the fact of displacement and dislocation on a daily basis. A 37-year-old woman with three dependents whose foot had been amputated explained: "If I decided to go back to my village, my life will be worse than this. Sometimes when we meet with the others [amputees] we will feel happy, because we will look at each other and play happily. But if you are in the village you are alone."

Being in a group helps the individuals to cope with the trauma of their original and current experiences. …

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