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.

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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

Refugees move to new camp in Liberia

UNHCR has begun transferring refugees from Côte d'Ivoire to a new refugee camp in the north-eastern Liberian town of Bahn. Over the coming weeks UNHCR hopes to move up to 15,000 refugees into the facility, which has been carved out of the jungle. They are among almost 40,000 civilians from Côte d'Ivoire who have fled to escape mounting political tension in their country since the presidential election in late November.

The final number of people to move to Bahn will depend on how many wish to be relocated.from villages near the Liberia-Côte d'Ivoire border. Initially most of the refugees were taken in by host communities, living side-by-side with locals. Poor road conditions made it difficult for humanitarian agencies to deliver assistance. Supplies of food, medicine and water have been running low, making conditions difficult for both locals and refugees.

At the camp in Bahn, refugees will have easy access to basic services such as health care, clean water and primary school education.

Refugees move to new camp in Liberia

Photo Gallery: The Challenge of Forced Displacement in Africa

Africa is the continent most affected by the tragedy of forced displacement. While millions of refugees were able to return to Angola, Burundi, Liberia, Rwanda and South Sudan over the last 15 years, the numbers of internally displaced people continued to grow. At the beginning of 2009, in addition to some 2.3 million refugees, an estimated 11.6 million people were internally displaced by conflict in Africa.

To address forced displacement on the continent, the African Union is organizing a special summit on refugees, returnees and internally displaced people from October 19-23 in the Ugandan capital, Kampala. Heads of state and government will look at the challenges and at ways to find solutions to forced displacement. They are also expected to adopt a Convention for the protection and assistance of internally displaced people (IDP) in Africa, which would be the first legally binding instrument on internal displacement with a continental scope. This photo gallery looks at some of the forcibly displaced around Africa, many of whom are helped by UNHCR.

Photo Gallery: The Challenge of Forced Displacement in Africa

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.