Is it safe to go home?

It has been more than two years since fighting calmed down in Ivory Coast. Still, there are 42 000 Ivorian refugees residing in Liberia. Most refugees are too afraid to return. Many have seen terrible acts of violence. Some had to watch their family members getting killed.

  • According to the UN's refugee agency UNHCR, there are nearly 44 million refugees in the world, of which 15 million who have fled out of their homeland, 27,5 million are internally displaced people, and 850 000 are asylym seekers.

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  • Prisca Zonh Manhan was 10 years old when her family fled from the fighting in Ivory Coast three years ago. Since then, she has been a refugee in Liberia. At the moment she lives with her parents and four siblings in PTP refugee camp in Grand Gedeh County.
    Prisca finished her primary school in the refugee camp last year. This January Finn Church Aid opened a secondary school in the camp, and she could go back to school.
    Prisca’s favourite subjects at school are French and mathematics. She is looking forward to all the students getting their school uniforms soon.

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  • Jocelyn Ziakon plays football in one of the teams of the refugee camp school. His dream is to become a football professional.
    Ivory Coast National Team playing in the World Cup boosts the football spirit in the camp. In PTP camp there are 15 000 refugees, but only five small places where people can watch the games on TV, in exchange for a small entrance fee.
    Jocelyn is also a young father. His son Michael was born in the refugee camp almost a year ago. “I don’t want to go home, because I cannot take more violence and killings. I don’t want my son to live that kind of life,” Jocelyn tells.

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  • Charlotte Thea is new in PTP refugee camp secondary school. The camp where she was residing earlier was shut down, so she had to move.
    Football is Charlotte’s passion. She is the captain in one of the football teams of the refugee camp school. Her future dream is to play or coach football abroad.
    “To be a good team leader, one has to be patient, relaxed and respect everyone. That is how I want to be!” Charlotte states.

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  • Sephora Maho, 16, is expecting her first child to be born in the next coming weeks. Still, she goes to school every day. She is planning to attend classes soon again, after giving birth. Many girls become mothers in a young age in West Africa. The refugee camp school runs a Girls’ Club to raise awareness on sexuality, birth control and motherhood.
    Sephora wishes to go back home to Ivory Coast with her child one day.

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  • Eloise Gnanh is a student of PTP refugee camp school and young mother. Her daughter, Princesse, stays in the Day Care Centre while mommy is in class. Finn Church Aid has established a Day Care Centre within the school area. The location ensures that it is easy for the studying mothers to attend classes without leaving their babies and toddlers somewhere else. In the Day Care Centre, four voluntary nannies are taking care of nearly thirty kids. During the breaks, the studying mothers come to play with their kids and feed their babies.
    Princesse was a little scared, as she had not seen a pale photographer before.

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  • Jules Yao Yeboua is English teacher in the PTP refugee camp secondary school. ”Last year we did not have a secondary school here. That was not good for the youth,” Jules tells. “In certain age the kids are exposed to all kinds of hazards, if they do not have anything to do.”
    The refugees with teaching background started to organize secondary school classes on voluntary basis. In January 2014, Finn Church Aid started helping out by establishing proper class rooms, providing materials, etc. Now the school is attending more than 400 students every day. Having a daily routine is very important for the refugee youth.
    From daily life perspective, English is maybe the most important subject at school for the refugee students. ”English is the common language in Liberia. These youth needs to learn how to communicate with local people, “ Jules says. In Ivory Coast the common official language is French.

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Now, the situation in Ivory Coast is mostly calm. Still, the security is fragile. The situation has been less stable in the past few months, as some confrontations have occurred close to the Liberian border. Next year there will be presidential elections, and the campaigning might cause unrest.

Since fighting has calmed down, many Ivorian refugees have returned home. Still, there are 42 000 Ivorian refugees residing in Liberia.  For many Ivorians, who have fled from their homeland, it is not safe to go back. Many of the refugees do not even have where to go: their home might be destroyed or someone else might have taken it over.

In the mind of a refugee, the past was oppressive and the future is unclear. Many of them have experienced terrible acts of violence. Some of them had to watch their family members getting killed. The idea of going back home is a unthinkable.

In a refugee camp setting, it is crucial to take into account the  group of children, who have passed the primary school age. Secondary education is often forgotten as a priority, and youth might be left alone in camp settings.

In Bahn and PTP camps for Ivorian refugees in Liberia, secondary education is provided by Finn Church Aid alone. Bahn refugee camp has had a secondary school for two school years now, and PTP camp witnessed one open in January. Enrolment rates now stand at 315 students in Bahn and 474 in PTP.  For the same age group, FCA opened a skills training center in Bahn refugee camp in March.

Text and photos: Ulla Tarkka