Skip to main content /TRANSCRIPTS



Aired May 8, 2002 - 17:00:00   ET



JONATHAN MANN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): Violating the victims. At United Nations camps in West Africa, aide workers blackmail young refugees into trading sex for survival.


Hello and welcome.

No one imagines that the life of a refugee is easy, but we do all expect that when the United Nations establishes camps to feed, shelter and protect them, the United Nations and aide workers do what is humanly possible to help.

The UN knows better. That in the camps of Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, something very different, something very sad, has been happening. Food is so scarce there that staff members demand sex from young women to supply it.

Award-winning filmmaker Sorious Samura visited the Boreah camp in eastern Guinea for our program today, where predators feed on hunger.


SORIOUS SAMURA, FILMMAKER (voice-over): We are used to seeing images of refuges on our TV screens during times of wars and natural disasters. But what happens to these people after the camera crews have left.

(on camera): When it comes to refugees, the world's attention seems to be focused on Afghanistan. But there are millions of refugees all over the world, like here in Guinea, home to tens of thousands of Sierra Leonians and Liberians who fled fighting in their countries.

But the world seems to have forgotten about them, until a report earlier this year made the world stand up and take notice.

(voice-over): Two months ago, the United nations refugee Agency, UNHCR, reported that aide workers in West Africa were demanding sex in return for the food aid they were supposed to good.

That's how 14-year-old Maria says her baby came to be fathered.

MARIA (through translator): When I was going to school, one aide worker said to me "I want you." I agreed because I had no relatives here, no means of living. He said that if I loved him especially with my relatives not around, he will do things for me. He said, "I'll be feeding you." So we went on until I became pregnant.

SAMURA: Although they wrote the report, UNHCR said they were shocked by what they discovered.

FATOUMATA SINKOUN KABA, UNHCR SPOKESPERSON: We do know that there is a lot of exploitation going on outside of the camps. We do know that sometimes it happens within the refugee population. But we had not suspected that it was happening with the aide workers.

SAMURA: The UNHCR might be shocked by the report, but none of the refugees I met were. They explained that it all comes down to supply and demand. Their monthly food rations often run out within 20 days, leaving them desperate.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): You have no choice but to sell your body if you want to look after your family and your children.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She is somebody who is looking after eight kids, and the bottom line is, she is somebody of dignity, somebody who wants to maintain her respect. Eight kids, with the supply that she's getting is just not enough. So at the end of the day, she has to prostitute. She has to sell her body. She has no choice.

SAMURA: It was becoming clear that food is the currency in the camp, and the aide workers, many of whom are refugees themselves, who control that food, hold enormous power as a result.

Two days before the next food distribution, the UN hold a meeting with refugee leaders to discuss the food situation and this months rations.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: If it were up to me, I would walk around the camp, asking individual people that really most of them have got out of food.

MARIAH SOUMARA, UNHCF: We cannot provide you with all your needs. That we know. Yes. But that will not prevent us from telling whoever is willing to help that there is a need. But food is not enough. But this is what we have.

SAMURA: But things are about to get even worse. The World Food Program, responsible for getting food into the camps, has bad news for the refugees.


SAMURA: The supply ship has been diverted to Afghanistan, leaving the refugees here short.

BENETE: At this present moment, I repeat, I'm sorry. We don't have oil.

SAMURA: (UNINTELLIGIBLE). Without it, how can they cook their food. This month, instead of the oil, they're to be given extra sugar. Not the easiest thing to cook with.

(on camera): This is the supplies that refugees here are going to live on for this month. This is going to be their daily ration: (UNINTELLIGIBLE), beans, Soya, sugar and salt. It's not a lot. And what? There's going to be no oil this month, so some of them will have to trade some of this for oil.

They also need fuel to cook, and books to send their kids to school. They need clothes. So they'll have to sell some of these.

And when you take away some of these, refugees are left with little or nothing. And as a result, young girls here have no choice but to sell the only thing they have left, their bodies.

(voice-over): Matu (ph) knows the economics of the camp only too well. She was 17 years old when an aide worker first approached her. We found her preparing the last of her rations for herself and the 5-year-old she says was fathered by the aide worker.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): When we got here some men came to our place at a time when we were not getting any supply and one of the men said he wanted me and would help me get a ration card that I could use to get food. I was still going to school when we started our relationship. It went on for a while till I was one month pregnant. He denied being the father.

SAMURA: Distribution day. The hungry crowds tee-off with their ration cards. They are greeted with more bad news. Not only will there be no cooking oil in their ration. They are told there is also no maize. This news does not go down well with the refugees.


SAMURA: The angry crowd rushes to where the food is. The French aid agency in charge of distribution was ready to call it a day.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You have to solve the problem today. You have to solve the solve the problem today.

SAMURA: This is Premier (UNINTELLIGIBLE) first contract for distributing food, but already Charlotte has little sympathy with the refugee's behavior.

CHARLOTTE, AIDE WORKER: Actually, they're never happy. Whatever we say, they are never happy. So, you know, that's their main occupation, to complain.


SAMURA: A refugee has been hit by one of the rocks.

They try to take him to hospital, but it's not medical aid he wants.


SAMURA: Charlotte remains defiant.

(On camera): Are they going to get a supply today at all?

CHARLOTTE: My old (UNINTELLIGIBLE) somewhere crying. I don't want to distribute. I come back tomorrow, if things settle down and if people are more quiet, we can arrange something.

SAMURA: But the point is, they're saying their rations have been refused and it's not likely that it's going to stop if they are not assured that they are going to get all the needed ingredients.

CHARLOTTE: If they don't accept it, I don't come back today. Anyway, at the end, eventually, they will have to accept it, because they have to choice. I have no choice.

SAMURA: But Charlotte discovers there is one choice left to the refugees. If they are not given the food, they can always try to take it.

Charlotte desperately calls for help, but too late.


SAMURA: I was witnessing the result of the desperation that promulgated (UNINTELLIGIBLE).


SAMURA: Tensions in the camp were now so high that the army was called in.

First, they removed the barricades the refugees had hastily put up, and then they escorted the aid agencies safely off the camp.

Back at the food depot, those who lost out in the riot are left to pick up the scraps.

Once again, it's the vulnerable who suffered as the food was taken by the young and strong.

(on camera): It's now one hour after food distribution was mean to happen. No one here is surprised that this riot took place this morning. There is confusion all over the place. Nobody knows what's going to happen now. But one thing we know for certain, there's going to be no food distribution today.

(voice-over): I went to visit Matu (ph) after the riot. Like most people in the camp, she missed out in the scramble for food, and I found her resorting to cooking leaves she picked in a nearby bush. She tells me that without food or other essential supplies, women and girls in the camp will have to continue to sleep with the only people they feel can help them, the aide workers.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): This is why we are doing things like this. Let me tell you now. Take today for instance. I have my son -- today no supply. And if there is no supply tomorrow, how can we not do it? That's why we're doing it. It's not from the heart. It's because we are hungry. When you are hungry then you do it.

SAMURA: So is more food the answer?

KABA: More food would be very helpful. More food would be very helpful in a sense that refugee women we speak to admit that should they have more food, their lives would have been much better. They would not trade their bodies for food.

SAMURA: But there is a division amongst the aid agencies here. Those who are responsible for bringing the food into the camps see things differently.

HANS VIROLEK, WORLD FOOD PROGRAM: I don't agree with the fact that food is the major issue here. It could eventually be increased, but it wouldn't change much.

I would rather see what the needs of the bigger picture is and give them what they need instead of bringing in food and letting them exchange the food to buy other material items they need in their households.

SAMURA: So the refugees are having to swap some of their meager food ration for other vital supplies that they are not given.

Like wood needed for cooking. Those who can't swap food for it, and won't sell their bodies for it, must venture outside the camp to get it. But with the forest full of gangs of young men, this is highly dangerous, as this girl found out.

Just yesterday, she says, she was attacked here.

The man jumped on her, pulled her deep into the forest. She was shouting for help, and then he took out a knife. And forced her to the ground here.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): he put a knife in my clothes and tore them. Then he tore my pants. Then he lay on top of me. Then he started kicking and beating me when he left me I got up and ran.

SAMURA: One of the recommendations in the report was for more protection officers to look after the vulnerable.

A few months on, there are just two such officers looking after 50,000 refugees in the camps.

But the biggest help, says UNHCR, would be more food, though there is little sign the donors will give any more.

(on camera): It's now three days after the riot, and there has still been no food distribution. The result: more hunger, more anger, and more desperation. And the one thing I've learned in my time here in the camp is that desperate people are forced to do desperate things.

(voice-over): The UN's internal affairs bureau is currently investigating individual allegations, and some aid agencies have already suspended aide workers.

UNHCR is now also drafting a code of conduct, which will attempt to ban the abuse of power and sexual exploitation by aide workers.

They hope it will be adopted by all aid agencies. But the feeling in the camp is that it will take more than words to stop young girls giving their bodies in return for aid.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): I have no family here to help me. If he says he'll help me I'll go with him.


MANN: That report was produced by Sorious Samura, Ivan O'Mahoney and Will Daws of INSIGHT NEWS TELEVISION.

In a moment, we'll hear from the man who runs the camps, the United Nations high commissioner for refugees, who is saddened but hardly surprised, and he doesn't blame the United Nations.


RUUD LUBBERS, UN: Frankly speaking, although we say this must be a real phenomenon give the conditions, there are too many risks. At the same time, we have to find concrete evidence. It's very scarce. So the idea of widespread sexual exploitation by humanitarian workers, I think it's simply not a reality.




MANN (voice-over): The United Nations was a full partner in the investigation that revealed the sexual abuse in its camps. And as we've heard, it has launched a second probe as well.

So when Sorious Samura visited Guinea, the UN was hardly surprised by what he found. But it says there is much more to the story.


(on camera): Welcome back.

Ultimately, it falls to the United Nations High Comm. for Refugees Ruud Lubbers, to make the United Nations camps true places of refuge. We spoke to him about what he saw.

LUBBERS: I think that what we're seeing in the camps and what was reported to you is not the day to day reality, but it happens. And what is the day to day reality already for sometime is that the food rations are really too low.

To understand this, it is not UNHCR that is providing the food. That's the World Food Program. The World Food Program, in that part of Africa in particular, is substantially under funded. We flagged that already, and we are really shocked that the international donor community, the yearly evaluations, people come over from Washington and Brussels, and they think that it's not that serious, but we know from the ground.

And in that sense we are glad to report that this program, World Food Program, is under funded, creates severe problems. We feel co-responsible, because after all we try to protect refugees there. But if you cannot provide food at a sufficient level, it's just not good, and you saw what happens.

Now, relating this to sexual abuses and sexual exploitation is a risky thing. I venture your reporters to come forward with the facts, because after that consultant of ours reported allegations there were investigations and, frankly speaking, although we say this must be a real phenomenon give the conditions, there are too many risks.

At the same time, we hardly find concrete evidence. It's very scarce. So the idea of widespread sexual exploitation by humanitarian workers, I think it's simply not a reality. So if your reporters.

MANN: Well, let me interrupt and ask you about that, if you will.


We heard specifically from young girls who said that their children were fathered by aide workers, who said that sex was the only way these girls could get food. Are you saying that the girls are lying, or that they're just exceptional cases and most young girls are not being exploited?

LUBBERS: No. What we know is that in poverty conditions you see more of that. It's difficult to make the distinctions where it becomes exploitation.

We have found also cases where humanitarian aide workers partner with young women while mothers are just delighted when they can find a husband.

In our system, we consider a woman under 18, it is not proper to develop a sexual relationship with them. But to be dangerous, when people go that way, to label it immediately as sexual exploitation. So we are strengthening now our code of conduct, because we think imbalance (UNINTELLIGIBLE) might be that a young guy from Norway or the Netherlands partners with a young woman, and the mother of the young woman is only happy when it happens, because it is one person less to feed.

In poverty situations, we still think it's too risky. The people who are doing humanitarian assistance start sexual relationship with young women. You know that in our country, the United States, the same in the Netherlands, we used to say younger than 18 years are minors. That's not always understood that way there.

So it's true that the awful situation in terms of poverty, and specifically (UNINTELLIGIBLE) by the under funding of the world food program, creates a (UNINTELLIGIBLE) situation in which it is difficult to see the distinction between, let's say, normal love affairs and things very near to exploitation.

That's exactly the reasons we did this study, try to improve the situation. Do also investigations. This is done by so-called overseers in New York.

But as I said, if your reporters have more concrete evidence about criminal acts, please come forward, because that's difficult to find.

MANN: I'm very struck by what you're saying, because the report that you speak of, UNHCR Save the Children report, doesn't speak of romance or culturally appropriate behavior. It speaks of young girls who are very clearly led to know that their names will be dropped from lists of food supplies, that they will not get rations that they are entitled to unless they agree to sex with aide workers.

Or it speaks more egregiously of peacekeepers, soldiers, who it says are among the worst offenders in abusing these children. There's no talk from the girls or from UNHCR's own report of anything even remotely approaching romance. it speaks of girls who know that this is a trade, that unless they give their bodies, they will not be given food that the UNHCR and certainly the countries that contribute to the UNHCR say that these people are getting as a matter of course.

It seems very hard-hearted to described this as a romance.

LUBBERS: We should not say this is a romance. That's stupid of course. The awful things is in the first place the poverty, which is objective. So this is point number one.

Point number two, when we ask consultants to do research there it is to see how we can do better. And as I said, we think we have to be more strict on codes of conduct. Maybe we need more only women to do the distribution of food to minimize risks. We are doing these measures of course because we think there are real risks.

But having said that, the allegations brought by the consultants have to be verified, and up until now we just have to say that the largest part of that is based on hearsay and although I think that someday we'll find one or two concrete cases, it's very risky to live with the idea as if humanitarian workers there are sexual exploiters.

In my reading, what I learned now from the investigation is that's simply not the case. So we should not lull ourselves, I would say, in the rich countries by saying humanitarian workers are doing wrong. We should say to ourselves, it's an outright shame that in these places there is not enough food. And that by not bringing enough food and assistance to the people, we promote mothers to send their daughters out to find food in other ways. And then you get awful things.

So I'm not denying that here has been certain awful things, but the basic problem is not sexual exploitation. The basic problem is the lack of funding, the lack of assistance, and the lack of capacity to understand that that is a very real problem.


MANN: Ruud Lubbers, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

That's all for INSIGHT for this day. I'm Jonathan Mann. The news continues.





Back to the top