Guinea: Liberian repatriation to go ahead despite general strike tensions

Briefing Notes, 26 January 2007

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Jennifer Pagonis to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 26 January 2007, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

The general strike paralysing Guinea over the last two weeks has limited our access to camps hosting Liberian refugees. But, despite this, security permitting, we plan to go ahead with a voluntary repatriation convoy tomorrow (Saturday) which will bring to 46,000 the number of refugees helped by UNHCR to return to Liberia from Guinea since the repatriation programme started in October 2004.

Tomorrow's convoy from Nzérékoré in south-eastern Guinea is scheduled to take 460 returnees to Ganta in neighbouring Liberia. Today (Friday), our staff in Nzérékoré are discussing the security situation with local authorities and agreeing a convoy route.

Throughout the strike, the situation in the refugee camps near Nzérékoré has been generally reported as calm but we and our partners have had to reduce staff and activities in the camps to a minimum. Essential services, however, have been maintained with a food distribution for some 4,300 refugees in Kounkan-1 camp going ahead last week, and another distribution for 11,400 refugees at Lainé camp yesterday (Thursday).

UNHCR welcomes what seems to be the resumption of a political dialogue as we are increasingly concerned with the effects of the ongoing crisis on the well-being of 31,000 Liberian, Sierra Leonian and Ivorian refugees in the country.

As part of the joint UN humanitarian response, UNHCR is closely monitoring the situation on Guinea's borders but has not noted any unusual population movements to surrounding countries. UN inter-agency missions visited border areas in Côte d'Ivoire on 18 January, in Guinea Bissau on 20/21 January, and in Mali this week.

Guinea hosts more than 31,000 refugees, including nearly 22,000 Liberians, with the rest from Sierra Leone and Côte d'Ivoire. Most of the refugees live in camps along Guinea's borders with Sierra Leone, Liberia and Côte d'Ivoire, with some 9,000 in the Guinean capital, Conakry. More than half of the some 90,000 refugees who have repatriated to Liberia since October 2004, came from Guinea, bringing it to the top of the list of West African countries involved in the Liberian repatriation operation.




UNHCR country pages

New flows of Ivorian refugees into Liberia

As of late March, more than 100,000 Ivorian refugees had crossed into eastern Liberia since lingering political tension from a disputed presidential election in neighbouring Côte d' Ivoire erupted into violence in February. Most have gone to Liberia's Nimba County, but in a sign that the fighting has shifted, some 6,000 Ivorians recently fled across the border into Liberia's Grand Gedeh County. Most of the new arrivals have settled in remote villages - some inaccessible by car. The UN refugee agency sent a mission to assess the needs of the refugees in the region.

Photographer Glenna Gordon photographed new arrivals near Zwedru in south-eastern Liberia.

New flows of Ivorian refugees into Liberia

Liberia: Return, Reintegration, Rehabilitation and Reconstruction

Colombia's armed conflict has forced millions of people to flee their homes, including hundreds of thousands who have sought refuge in other countries in the region.

Along the border with Colombia, Panama's Darien region is a thick and inhospitable jungle accessible only by boat. Yet many Colombians have taken refuge here after fleeing the irregular armed groups who control large parts of jungle territory on the other side of the border.

Many of the families sheltering in the Darien are from Colombia's ethnic minorities – indigenous or Afro-Colombians – who have been particularly badly hit by the conflict and forcibly displaced in large numbers. In recent years, there has also been an increase in the numbers of Colombians arriving in the capital, Panama City.

There are an estimated 12,500 Colombians of concern to UNHCR in Panama, but many prefer not to make themselves known to authorities and remain in hiding. This "hidden population" is one of the biggest challenges facing UNHCR not only in Panama but also in Ecuador and Venezuela.

Liberia: Return, Reintegration, Rehabilitation and Reconstruction

Sierra Leone: Last Return Convoy from Liberia

On July 21, 2004, the final UNHCR convoy from Liberia crossed over the Mano River bridge into Sierra Leone with 286 returnees. This convoy included the last of some 280,000 refugees returning home after Sierra Leone's brutal 10-year civil war which ended in 2000. Overall, since repatriation began in 2001, UNHCR has helped some 178,000 refugees return home, with a further 92,000 returning spontaneously, without transport assistance from UNHCR.

UNHCR provided returnees with food rations and various non-food items, including jerry cans, blankets, sleeping mats, soap and agricultural tools in order to help them establish their new lives in communities of origin. To promote integration of newly arrived returnees, UNHCR has implemented some 1,000 community empowerment projects nationwide. Programmes include the building and rehabilitation of schools, clinics, water and sanitation facilities, as well as micro-credit schemes and skills training.

UNHCR and its partners, alongside the UN country team and the government, will continue to assist the reintegration of returnees through the end of 2005.

Sierra Leone: Last Return Convoy from Liberia

Liberia: A Neighbour's HelpPlay video

Liberia: A Neighbour's Help

Alphonse Gonglegbe fled to Liberia with his family a few months ago. He appreciates the help he's been receiving in this land neighbouring his native Côte d'Ivoire.
Liberia: Hurried FlightPlay video

Liberia: Hurried Flight

Tens of thousands of Ivorians have fled their villages and sought shelter in Liberia. Francis says he ran for his life and now he wants safety and food.
Liberia: Settling InPlay video

Liberia: Settling In

A dozen new shelters are built every day in Liberia's Bahn refugee camp. Eventually there will be 3,000 shelters for some of the many civilians who have fled from neighbouring Côte d'Ivoire.