Institutt for sosialantropologi

"Stuck in Thorns". The Effects of Power on Liberian Refugees in Guinea


By Henry Ahorttor Collins

Supervisor: Professor Leif Manger

This thesis is about refugees who fled from Liberia to Guinea to join the “miserable sea of humanity” (Malkki 1996) from January 1990 when the Charles Taylor led a rebel war that began in December 1989.

Essentially, this thesis focuses on analyzing how first the bureaucratic power exercised by UNHCR and CNISR, as well as second, everyday power by Guinean majority affect Liberian refugees in Guinea, and how the refugees themself have found ways to address the challenges they meet. A key strategy among the Liberian is to invest in social networks, a form of social power acquired by the refuges that serves as a coping strategy. Finally, the thesis looks at women and children, as especially the vulnerable groups.

Overly, I argue that the various form of power that I discuss have psychological, economic and security ramifications on the lives of Liberian refugees in Guinea. It is argued that the exercise of bureaucratic power by UNHCR and CNISR had adverse effects on the elderly, the terminally ill, the disabled, malnourished children and other vulnerable refugees in Guinea. With women and minors mostly affected by the everyday power which the local Guineans exercise over the Liberian refugees, I argue that the involvement of UNHCR and CNISR staff themselves in the improprieties have hugely contributed to the demise which women and children face in Guinea.

The humanitarian aid, with which the refugees have lived on from 1990, stopped in 2007. From that time these refugees had to engage in various livelihood activities. With the UNHCR and CNISR paying less attention to the Liberian refugees from 2007, the refugees transformed the former UNHCR mechanisms into building social networks and solidarity to enhance social power and to express an identity of shared suffering. While humanitarian aid stopped in 2007, the refugee status of Liberians ended on June 30, 2012. However, UNHCR and CNISR continue to exercise their bureaucratic power in the fields of local integration and voluntary repatriation processes, especially in disseminating information about the durable solution benefits and in registering refugees for each of the solutions as well as their implementation. The thesis is based on fieldwork and participant observation was the major tool of research.