14 March 2005

Sierra Leone: Refugees Abduct UNHCR Staff Again

Freetown — Some workers of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), World Food Programme (WFP) and other NGO officials were last Thursday abducted by refugees at the Tobanda refugee camp, Kenema district.

The refugees allege that UNHCR staff are selling most of the food items they are supposed to be supplied.

"They aren't supplying sufficient food to us because they sell most of the food items," they allege.

Kenema Police Local Unit Commander, Chief Superintendent Philip Wellington said during the riot two police vehicles were vandalized and four police officers injured.

"But three refugees have been arrested and will soon be charged for riotous conduct," he says.

UNHCR's Public Information Officer, Rachael Goldstein-Rodriguez confirmed that five UNHCR staffs, three WFP workers, a NaCSA official and other NGO staff were held against their will for several hours by refugees because of a dispute over the WFP food package.

"The incident began after a WFP staff realized that the amount of food to be distributed was incorrectly stated in the instruction issued for this month's ration distribution," she said, adding that the mistake was quickly corrected in front of the refugee leadership but they refused to accept the change and grew hostile.

UNHCR Deputy Representative, Andrew Mayne says, "emotions always run high at distribution times and while distributions are normally conducted in a very orderly manner, it is inevitable that misunderstandings will arise and if this happen, it is essential that all parties involved reject violence as a solution and work to resolve the problem calmly."

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