Tainted keepers of peace

FINDA James thought she had at last found sanctuary when she came to the refugee camp at Blama. She had watched rebel soldiers kill her mother and had been taken prisoner by them. Freed by government troops she was brought to the camp, which houses more than 15 000 people who have been internally displaced by the 10 years of civil war in Sierra Leone.

With no rebels at the camp, Finda (14) thought she would be safe. But she found herself confronted with a problem that is endemic in the refugee camps of Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia: she became the victim of an aid worker who offered her rations in return for sex. Now she finds herself alone with a seven-month-old baby boy called Saha.

Stories like this are being investigated by a team from the United Nations, sent after a report by the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHRC) and Save the Children concluded that there was evidence of a “chronic and entrenched pattern” of abuse in refugee camps in the three West African countries, involving mostly locally employed workers for international NGOs.

More than 40 NGOs and 67 individuals have been implicated in allegations that aid was withheld unless paid for by sex. The UNHCR report has been criticised for its methodology and use of hearsay as evidence, but its general conclusions have alarmed aid agencies.

A spokesperson for MÃ

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