By Tosin Durodola
“Are borders also made out of paper? Of documents that fix identities, citizenship, statuses and eligibilities?”(Extracted from the Miro Board of the Working group on Securitisation and Technologies of the Border)
Hundreds of residual Liberian refugees have spent up to three decades in Oru refugee camp, Ogun State, Nigeria, without any other perspectives than a life of bordering and the remote possibility of return or resettlement. They displaced from their homeland – Liberia as a result of the Civil War of the 1990s. They were forced to flee to neighbouring countries such as Ivory Coast, Ghana and Nigeria where they were eventually granted asylum.
The Oru Refugee Camp was part of the different camps created in the region by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), to provide temporary accommodation for Liberian refugees until peace returned to their homeland. Despite the end of the Liberian Civil War in 2003 and UNHCR’s termination of their refugee status, some Liberian refugee residuals remained in the refugee settlement due to myriad of reasons ranging from fear of persecution, failure of local integration and resettlement, unattractive repatriation package, and lack of homeland support, amongst others.
The Oru community, driven by the desire to reclaim their land and property, adopted another mechanism to remove the residual Liberian refugees completely from the town. This attempt was based on mistrust by the Oru community who perceive residual Liberian refugees as a population from a violent country with experience marked by despondency, stubbornness, resilience, and pride.
Equally, The UNHCR failed to fulfil its duty to implement the outcome of its concentrated dialogue or debate, between the refugees, host community members and Ogun State that ought to integrate residual Liberian refugees in a better society. This oversight or inactions led to their subsequent eviction by the host community members from the main Oru refugee site to a nearby uninhabitable bushy location. Despite pleas by the residual Liberian refugees, the host community members refused their demands to continue using the former refugee campsite as a place of shelter after its closure by the Nigerian government.
Outside the closed Oru Refugee camp, they were exposed to vulnerability without international protection and humanitarian aid. The community constructed a fence to barricade the refugees from accessing the facility in the former refugee camp, thereby restricting them to make most of the bushy space they occupy. Here, they are abandoned by the state and national governments. “Are borders also classificatory systems? Something that wants to establish a ‘here’ and ‘somewhere else’? Between a ‘have’ and ‘have not’? Why do borders create patio-political identities and then demarcate between those who have them and those who don’t?”.
Residual Liberian Refugees in Nigeria are faced with social, economic and health challenges that are compounded by exclusion from social protection and lack of access to state welfare and integration. They are currently without legal status since UNHCR terminated their refugee status in 2007, and they do not possess the legal documents to claim citizenship in Nigeria or return to Liberia.
This ambiguity is reinforced by the time and space in exile that has resulted to either loss of legal documents to cross border for a return back home or the required documents to claim citizenship in Nigeria or resettle elsewhere.
In the absence of legal status and state or international protection, residual Liberian Refugees in Nigeria have continue to enact and rely on certain transformative agency reinforced by diaspora support and digital mediums to navigate this internal border of exclusion and marginality, albeit as undesirable extra-population.
Durodola, Tosin Samuel recently obtained his M.A in African Studies (Diaspora and Transnational Studies) with the highest Distinction from the Institute of African Studies, University of Ibadan, Nigeria. His research interests focus on the intersection of displacement, border and development. He is a Research Fellow of the French Institute for Research in Africa (IFRA-Nigeria) and was a Research Intern at the Centre for African Studies (CAS), University of Mumbai. His work has been published at the University of Oxford’s Centre for Migration, Policy and Society (COMPAS), CAS ‘Journal’ African Currents, Oxford Monitor of Forced Migration, amongst others. He is currently the Special Assistant on Digital Communications to the Governor of Ekiti State, Nigeria.