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close this bookMedical Assistance to Self-settled Refugees (Tropical Institute Antwerp, 1998)
close this folder3. The refugee-crisis: between self-reliance and pragmatic assistance
close this folderSettlement patterns of refugees
View the documentThe number and distribution of refugees*
View the document'Integration' of urban refugees
View the documentRural refugees: between 'integration' and 'segregation'
View the document'Refugees live in camps'

'Integration' of urban refugees

One third of the refugees, mainly Mandingo, settled in the major urban centres: N'ZkorGuu and Macenta. The Mandingo, whether 'refugees', 'returnees' or 'citizens', dominated trade in the cities. Their arrival from Liberia transformed the cities of the Forest Region. Since 1990, the number of cars in the cities at least tripled or quadrupled. The refugees brought many of these cars, but often had to sell them when their resource basis dwindled.

These refugees were integrated in the economic life of the cities. The sudden increase of Mandingo further marginalised the forest tribes - Mano, KpellLoma and Kissi - economically. It also exacerbated pre-existing ethnic tensions. The forest tribes were loyal to NPFL that had persecuted the Mandingo in Liberia. In June 1991, ethnic tensions between Kpellnd Mandingo escalated in N'Zkornd resulted in clashes which caused some 200 deaths. Also in Macenta, tensions between the Mandingo, locally known as Tomamania, and the Loma increased. Several hundreds of people were killed. At the same time, political liberalisation made the forest tribes more vocal and their domination of certain city councils, namely in N'Zkorstrengthened their political position.

In the cities, there were serious problems with over-registration of refugees. Many merchants and local authorities acquired ration cards, in certain cases for many groups of 50 beneficiaries. The urban Mandingo refugees were the most outspoken and politically aware section of the refugee population. When food distributions became irregular, the urban refugees staged protests at the UNHCR offices. When food aid only trickled in, as was the case throughout 1995, there was political pressure to favour distributions to the urban refugees to avoid tensions in the cities. Most urban refugees managed relatively well, at least economically. Still, they lost a lot through their forced migration to Guinea. Many Mandingo were killed in Liberia, and part of their property was looted or destroyed. Some became destitute, lost their social network and became pauperised urban dwellers.