The United States of America has stopped issuing visas to Sierra Leonean nationals, after the government of Sierra Leone reneged on an agreement to allow Sierra Leoneans deported by the USA to return to Sierra Leone.
The governments of the USA and Sierra Leone in 2017 entered into a repatriation agreement, whereby the government of Sierra Leone will issue travel documents to Sierra Leonean nationals that have been declared ‘persona non grata’ by the US government to return to Sierra Leone.
It is not clear whether the US government has made cash payment to the government of Sierra Leone in return for receiving and rehabilitating or resettling those deported to Sierra Leone by the US government, as such matters are usually not made public. What is clear is that the US government usually charters flights that take deportees back to Sierra Leone, accompanied by armed US marshals.
But this arrangement came under immense strain a few months ago, when two deportees arriving in Sierra Leone claimed they were forced to go to Sierra Leone despite protesting to the US government that they are not Sierra Leonean nationals but Caribbean’s. The US government denied responsibility for that fiasco, instead blaming the government of Sierra Leone whose responsibility the US government says it is to check the nationality of all deportees before issuing them with travel documents to Sierra Leone.
The argument between the two governments over the repatriation of Sierra Leoneans from the USA, and the government of Sierra Leone’s role in facilitating the process, came to a head a few weeks ago when the government of Sierra Leone stopped issuing travel documents to deportees. In response, the US government slammed a ban on Sierra Leoneans travelling to the USA with Sierra Leonean passport, bringing to a complete and devastating halt the possibility of Sierra Leoneans being able to obtain US visa.
But some policy analysts believe that this sudden decision by the US government is not unconnected to the private visit to Hezbollah controlled Lebanon four weeks ago by the president of Sierra Leone Julius Maada Bio, where it is alleged he met, dined and discussed investment opportunities with some of the most powerful and rich Lebanese tycoons, whom the US government frown upon as ‘unsavory characters’ involved in arms dealing and international money laundering.
The US Ambassador to Sierra Leone Maria Brewer was speaking on local radio 98.1 FM about the US government’s decision to suspend issuing visas to Sierra Leoneans. This is what she said: