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Cablegate: Substandard Conditions Provoke Pleas From

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.



E.O. 12958: N/A

1. Summary: On a visit to Oru Refugee Camp, PRM
regional refugee coordinator, PRM admissions program
officer, and Lagos pol-off were greeted by a large
crowd. The refugees complained of substandard housing
and sanitation, both evident on a tour of the camp.
They explained the barriers to local integration,
including job scarcity and language and cultural
differences. UNHCR staff reported the camp is below
standards on almost all indicators. UNHCR funding for
the camp was never increased to account for the influx
of 3,000 Liberian refugees in 2003. Staff do not
expect a budget increase in the future because UNHCR
plans to close the camp. It likely will take years to
repatriate, integrate, or resettle all the refugees at
Oru Camp. PRM's regional refugee coordinator
characterized the camp's conditions as among the worst
in West Africa. End summary.

2. On April 12, the regional refugee coordinator, PRM
desk officer, and Lagos pol-off visited the Oru Refugee
camp, where 5,300 of the estimated 8,000 refugees in
Nigeria live. The camp is run by UNHCR in partnership
with the Nigerian National Commission for Refugees.
Other partners include the Red Cross, the Nigerian
Police Force (NPF), the Ijebu North Local Government,
and the Justice, Development and Peace Commission of
the local Catholic diocese. About 3,800 of the
refugees are Liberian. Another 1,000 are Sierra
Leonean. The remainder are from DROC, Sudan, Cote
d'Ivoire, Cameroon, Burundi, Somalia, and other African

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Residents Give Tour of Substandard
Conditions and Plead for Improvements

3. A large crowd of camp residents greeted us at the
gates, many bearing homemade signs such as "President
Bush, refugees in Nigeria need your help," "We are
suffering here," and "I was raped." The crowd swarmed
around us during our tour of the camp. They cheered
loudly when they diverted us from the path they
believed camp managers wanted to follow. The
"diversion" took us to a small bakery the residents
complained operated as a private enterprise within the
camp. The residents also steered us through several
rooms in the school building and two warehouses that
serve as makeshift living quarters for about 300 of the
3,000 Liberians who arrived in 2003. The warehouses
were particularly stifling in the midday heat, with
dirt floors and only plastic and canvas sheets to serve
as partitions.

4. Conditions in the regular housing area were better
than in the school and warehouses, but not much. The
refugees residing in these dwellings also bemoaned
their situation. Some complained of over crowding and
of snake infestation. Everyone pointed out the
inadequate latrine and shower facilities; they
complained the camp has too few facilities and that
those are of poor condition and offer little privacy.

"Resettlement Is Our Only Option"

5. Following the tour, the refugees assembled to speak
with us in a central building, filling the large hall
to overflowing. Representatives shared the primary
concerns of their respective groups. The Liberian
representative expressed appreciation for what the camp
provides and for the hospitality of the Nigerian
government. He appealed, however, for more support for
education and human resource development, medical
assistance, food assistance, and housing. He noted
that the phase-down of food assistance has led some
refugees to resort to begging, prostitution, and odd
jobs. He likened the situation of those living in the
school building to "people locked in prisons, living in
hopelessness and despair."

6. As barriers to local integration, the
representative cited language, high unemployment in the
surrounding areas, and social intolerance. (Note:
Although English is Nigeria's official language,
different ethnic languages remain the primary language
in many areas away from primary urban centers.) In
regard to repatriation, he maintained the Liberian
government is unprepared to protect and provide for
returning refugees. He concluded that resettlement to
a third country is the only durable option for most of
the Liberian refugees, noting the resettlement rate
from Oru is below that from other camps in the region.
The representatives of other nationalities raised
similar concerns about conditions in the camp and made
similar arguments for resettlement as the best or only
option. The regional refugee coordinator thanked the
representatives for their presentations, but he
cautioned the refugees that only 1-2% of the worldwide
total of refugees are resettled annually.

Minimal Services, Many Below Standard
7. In a separate meeting at the UNHCR office in Lagos,
UNHCR staff outlined the services the agency and its
partners provide refugees at the camp, including
medical assistance, food assistance for vulnerable
persons, primary education, and some secondary
education and vocational training. The staff is well
aware that camp conditions fall below UNHCR standards
for almost all indicators: 68 people per latrine,
against a standard of 20 per latrine; 66 people per
communal shower, against a standard of 50 per shower;
individual latrines in 28% of dwellings, against a
standard of 100%; and adequate water and sanitation in
72% of communal buildings, against a standard of 100%.

--------------------------------------------- ------
Unchanged Budget As Camp Moves Toward Exit Strategy
--------------------------------------------- ------

8. Staff reported the budget for the camp has not
changed since the influx of Liberians in 2003. The
budget for infrastructure allows some improvements but
is too small to build housing for those now residing in
the school and warehouses. The staff explained UNHCR
is unlikely to increase the camp's budget, since donors
want the camp moved to an exit strategy. UNHCR staff
told us they plan this year to keep the Liberians
informed of the situation in Liberia to help them
decide whether to return after the elections in
October. Hoping the elections go well, UNHCR staff
plans to repatriate 1,000 Liberian refugees towards the
end of 2005 and another 2,000 in 2006. Regarding the
Sierra Leonean refugees, UNHCR plans to improve
assistance for local integration. The staff, however,
acknowledged the difficulty of local integration,
despite the GON's open policy for ECOWAS citizens. The
UNHCR protection officer commented that with 70 percent
of its own citizens living in poverty, Nigeria has "no
space for refugees." She also noted that because
Nigeria has "only" 8,000 refugees, UNHCR headquarters
sees it as an easy place to make cuts when cuts need to
be made.

9. Comment: Even under the best scenario, it likely
will take several years to repatriate, integrate, or
resettle the refugees at Oru Camp. UNHCR's timetable
for repatriation seems overly optimistic. Although we
want to encourage repatriation, we doubt the refugees
at Oru will cooperate to the extent that UNHCR will be
able to meet its late 2005/2006 repatriation targets.
In the meantime, the camp residents live in some of the
worst conditions of any refugees in West Africa.
Ironically, with the meager housing and services the
camp does provide, the refugees live in better
conditions than many poor Nigerians. The refugees and
the UNHCR staff have accurately assessed the situation:
although Nigeria has been a gracious host accepting
these refugees and in providing for them, the camp's
5,300 residents are understandably overlooked as
Nigeria struggles with nationwide problems of poverty,
job scarcity, and poor sanitation. International
donors remain the only realistic hope for improving
conditions at Oru Camp. End comment.

10. This cable was cleared by the PRM regional refugee
coordinator and PRM admissions program officer.


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