EL-Hocine Nait Belaid, a 71-year-old Franco-Algerian refugee, has accused authorities at the Liberia Refugee Repatriation and Resettlement Commission (LRRRC) and its implementing partner, Special Emergency Activity to Restore Children’s Hope (SEARCH) of abusing his right to healthcare as a sick refugee.
Belaid, who claimed to have lived in Liberia since 2006, staged a one-man protest at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Monday, October 28, calling for the intervention of President George Weah in ensuring that he gets proper medical treatment.
He accused SEARCH, a local non-governmental organization (NGO) and LRRRC implementing partner of having placed him in isolation, forced displacement and other forms of mistreatment meted against him.
Mr. Belaid said the severe abuse he suffered while under SEARCH’s protection has resulted in a waist fracture, which condition medical doctors have advised him to seek treatment outside Liberia. He was placed in SEARCH’s protection by authorities of the United Nations High Commission on Refugee (UNHCR) as a registered refugee in 2003.
In an interview with the Daily Observer, Belaid said he initiated his one-man three-week “hunger strike” in protest of the alleged ill-treatment against him by both institutions, and also a sit-in-action at the LRRRC 9th Street office in Sinkor on Thursday, October 10, 2019 in demand of urgent medical attention.
He currently carries a valid UNHCR identification (ID) card with registration number 580-00004597, issued by the Government of Liberia (GoL).
Mr. Belaid said that since February 14, 2014, shortly after he sustained the injury resulting from the alleged abuse suffered at the hands of SEARCH’s protection officers at the refugee safe-home in Lakpazee, Airfield Sinkor, LRRRC has failed to ensure that he gets the required medical attention as well as protection.
He also said LRRRC and SEARCH are allegedly defrauding him of his financial and other benefits provided by the UNHCR.
Belaid said he is currently placed in an old folk’s home by LRRRC in an alleged attempt to isolate him. He added that his vocal stance against abuses meted on refugees at the safe-home made him a target of isolation.
He said SEARCH, in an effort to isolate him, took him to Ganta, Nimba County on January 2015, under the pretext of taking him to the Ivory Coast to seek advanced medical treatment, but days after, he was taken to Tapitta in an attempt to abandon him there. He recalled how a similar hunger-strike at the LRRRC head office prompted SEARCH to bring him back to Monrovia.
At the 1603 safe home Barnersville, Belaid alleged that he was not fed on numerous occasions or given medical attention under the watch of SEARCH.
Mr. Belaid said he was later given shelter in Caldwell by a kindhearted church member when he was told by SEARCH that the rental agreement of the house where he and other Ivorian refugees were residing had expired.
He said he is currently staying at a home for old folks in Central Monrovia where the living condition is very deplorable and he has been at the facility since March 2019 under the pretext by LRRRC that preparation is underway to have him seek medical treatment outside the country.
When contacted, LRRRC’s Assistant Director for communication, Samuel David, said SEARCH is a registered national NGO specialized in protection; funded by UNHCR to implement projects approved and endorsed by the GoL through the LRRRC, but is no longer working on the UNHCR projects that caters to refugees since January 2019.
David vehemently denied SEARCH ever placing Belaid in detention or forced displacement; “their role was to provide him support to medical care, accommodation and subsistence, which they did provide to him.
“LRRRC (and SEARCH) cannot share Belaid’s medical documents with the newspaper, but can assure you that qualified doctors here have attended to him in Liberia where he is recognized as a refugee,” he said.
David confirmed that Belaid is a recognized refugee, adding that “it is true that Belaid had a fracture, which for his advanced age makes it more complicated to heal. SEARCH did not cause the fracture. It is also true that several medical doctors have examined him. Hospital’s bills have been paid on his behalf.”
David added, “Resettlement to a third country, whether for medical or other problems, is not a right. It is based on a number of factors including finding a country that is willing to accept the refugee.”
“Belaid will continue to be supported by his medical care and bills. Doctors at JFK Hospital, who are treating him will have to work with the refugee and advise him as they would provide to a Liberian national,” he said.
He said Belaid was placed in an old folks’ home since March 2019, “because LRRRC and UNHCR came to that agreement with the old folk’s home’s management after the lease on a room SEARCH rented for him, with funding from UNHCR expired.”
According to the UNCHR guide to international refugee protection, to which Liberia is a signatory, a refugee is someone who has left his/her country of origin, and is unable or unwilling to return there, “because of a serious threat to his or her life or freedom.”
Refugees are entitled to protection from forcible return to their country of origin (the principle of non-refoulment) and have other rights and duties that are set out in the 1951 Convention.
States’ obligations, including to cooperate with UNHCR in the exercise of its functions and to facilitate its duty of supervising the application of the Convention.
International refugee law consists of the 1951 Convention and its 1967 Protocol, and related regional instruments but the UNRCR, but the international guide states that refugee law does not operate in isolation. It is complemented by other bodies of law, notably international human rights law, international humanitarian law, and international criminal law. There is no hierarchical relationship between these bodies of law, but they are interconnected.