Four months after the opening of a Liberian embassy in Dakar, Senegal,
the new ambassador has pledged to further the relationship between the
two West African countries. He also hopes to facilitate the passage of
Liberian war refugees who want to go home.
Johnny McClain is Liberia's new ambassador to
Senegal. He is in a unique position - almost all the Liberians living
in Senegal are refugees who fled here during the Liberian war. That
war ended five years ago, and some of them say they are ready to go
McClain said that getting them all back to Liberia will not be easy.
to many of them and knowing the situation, I will conclude that first
of all, the country is not totally ready to absorb the refugees that we
have in the sub-region - all of them. In Dakar, we have about 500 or
more and as long as they have been here, most of them have not been to
school to acquire skills to make them marketable in the job area. And
so I think that is the main threat for them," McClain said.
was never earmarked as a country that could absorb Liberian refugees,
largely because of its distance from Liberia. Most war refugees fled
to Sierra Leone, Cote d'Ivoire and Guinea. But those who did find
themselves in Senegal were given some support by UNHCR.
McClain said that has now come to an end.
other thing, I think, that impedes their movement is being able to
repatriate themselves, because I am told that the U.N. repatriation
program here has ended," he said.
While some refugees are eager to return to Liberia and help rebuild the country, McClain said that others are more reluctant.
encouraged some of those who had the means to go back home, to go early
and face the challenges that other Liberians are facing. Every
Liberian comes from a place, a village or an urban area, with relatives
who would be willing to assist them, rather than to prolong the agony
of staying abroad and doing nothing," McClain said.
of the refugees in Senegal have been here for as long as 10 years.
Others fled the horrors of the Liberian war as it was coming to an end,
and have been drifting from country to country ever since.
said he feared that some refugees do not believe that Liberia is at
peace. He said that although many are too traumatized to face the
past, they can still try to face the challenges of the future.
am not able to propose a quick fix. As long as we have some limited
funds at our disposal, we will encourage - especially the younger
people, who still have a future - they can go back home and go to
school instead of just being here, for [the sake of] being away from
home," he said.
The ambassador also hopes to
further educational links between Liberia and Senegal. Senegal is home
to some of the best universities in West Africa. McClain said he was
hopeful that there will be scholarships on offer for Liberian students
who are willing to learn French.
came on a scholarship myself from Liberia [back in] those days, so I am
trying to see if I can obtain some assistance from the government or
from NGOs, to bring some of our young people to go to school. And it
is because of my French background that I was able to work at the U.N.
So those are opportunities that we can take advantage of for the
future," McClain said.
The new ambassador said he also plans to establish a annual commission of representatives from both countries.
are now working on - and this suggestion I must admit, came from
President Wade - we are now working on establishing a mixed commission
in areas like mining, fishing, things like that. It will probably meet
once a year to see how both countries can collaborate and help each
other," McClain said.
Throughout Liberia's 14-year
war, there was no embassy in Senegal. It is hoped that the presence of
the ambassador will help cement Liberia's nascent relationship with the
rest of West Africa.