The New Humanitarian Annual Report 2021

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Refugees appeal to government to extend stay

[Liberia] Amarah S, 45, is a former colonel with the Armed Forces of Liberia who fled his country to Israel seven months ago.
(Tamar Dressler/IRIN)

Members of the small Liberian community in Tel Aviv have appealed to the Israeli government to allow them to extend their stay in Israel.

The appeal comes seven months after the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) representative in Israel wrote to all Liberian refugees directing them to return to Liberia by 31 March 2007. These letters followed the UNHCR declaration in Geneva describing Liberia as a safe country. As the deadline grows nearer, the refugees have become more desperate.

Ayouba Kenneh, who fled from his country 16 years ago, is the leader of the Liberian refugees in Israel. He said: “I watched the [anti-government] rebels murder my father and aunt. My three sisters were raped and than murdered while I watched helplessly from my hiding place in the garbage heap. These rebels were our neighbours but from a different tribe.

“I escaped that night through the bush with other members of my tribe. It took us three weeks to reach the Ivory Coast border. There was a pregnant woman with us who gave birth during our flight but the baby died and later on the mother died too from lack of medical treatment.”

The Liberians crossed the border into Ivory Coast and from there they boarded ships to Egypt. From Egypt they entered Israel through the Haifa seaport or Ben Gurion airport. All, except Kenneh, entered Israel legally.

Kenneh said he was certain that if he returned to Liberia, the former rebels would try to kill him to conceal any evidence. Since all Liberians in Israel are members of the Mandingo tribe, they fear returning. They told the Israelis they were well-off in Liberia and they fear they will be killed to eliminate evidence and that those who took their property will not wish to rescind it.


Liberia conflict

  • First Liberian civil war took place between 1989-1997 after rebel group the National Patriotic Front of Liberia took on the national army.
  • Second Liberian civil war took place between 1999 and 2003 when rebel group the Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy sought to overthrow the government.
  • 150,000 people were killed in both wars.
  • 850,000 refugees in neighbouring countries.
  • 237,800 displaced.

Liberian refugees have been living in Israel for the past 17 years. They have been awarded Temporary Protected Status, granted to foreign nationals whose homeland conditions are recognised by the UN as being temporarily unsafe or overly dangerous to return to.

The community has fewer than 90 members, 16 of whom are Israeli-born children. It is a close-knit community, sharing flats in one of Tel Aviv’s derelict neighbourhoods. All do menial jobs such as cleaning, house-keeping and dishwashing for very low wages.

Amarah S, who did not wish to be named, is a newcomer to the refugee community. A former colonel with the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL), the 45-year-old fled his country only seven months ago after neighbours attacked his home in revenge for his alleged misdeeds during the war.

Amarah said, “I was forced to join the AFL and participate in the killing, sometimes I was forced to kill members of my own tribe. I had no choice, but I am not a murderer.”

With no passport or money he managed to escape through the bush leaving his wife and two children. He crossed the border into Guinea and from there boarded a ship as stowaway and got off in Egypt. He was there for a week working in a market for food until a Bedouin helped him cross the border into Israel.

Amarah said he found crossing the Egyptian border easy and he was not spotted by the Israeli Defense Forces. He told IRIN that seven months ago, he just walked and walked until he met some people who did not turn him in but instead, put him on a bus to Tel Aviv, where it did not take long to find his fellow Liberians.
They took him in and he now lives in the same flat as victims of the AFL.

Amarah’s case is being reviewed by UNHCR. He said he was desperate to find his family but returning to Liberia was not an option. “I will be killed as soon as I return. Liberia is not safe. Crimes are committed without interruption.”



Photo: Ansu Konneh/IRIN
Liberian soldiers

Liberia’s President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf had appealed to governments worldwide to allow more time for Liberia to become stable before sending back Liberian refugees.

Lawyer Ari Syrkuin, representing the Liberian community in their appeal to the government, believes Israel should consider the extension as a humanitarian act. “There are fewer than 90 Liberians in Israel today. They are all hard-working and law-abiding. Liberia is still in chaos, I hope the Minister of Interior will consider their plea favourably.”

Sharon Harel, from UNHCR in Israel, said “the decision is not in the hands of UNHCR. Only the [Israeli] Interior Ministry can decide to extend the Liberian refugees’ stay in Israel.”

Sabine Hadad, a spokesperson for the Israeli Interior Ministry, said the appeal was being reviewed by the ministry’s legal department in an effort to resolve the issue.

“We came here desperate and you gave us hope,” said Kenneh. “I appeal to the Israeli government and people to see us as human beings fleeing from war and extend our stay.”

td/ar/mw

see also
UN refugee agency short of funds to help Liberians home Refugee returns creating ethnic "time bomb"
Ex-combatants riot


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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