Guinea: Refugee operations continue - just

Briefing Notes, 20 February 2007

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson William Spindler to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 20 February 2007, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

UNHCR is managing to carry on its humanitarian operations for thousands of refugees in Guinea amid an increasingly complex and uncertain situation, including a general strike and a government-declared state of emergency.

This week, we are scheduling two voluntary repatriation movements for Liberian refugees one towards Yekepa tomorrow (21 Feb.) and the other to Voinjama on Friday (23 Feb.). In total, approximately 500 refugees will go back to Liberia in the two return movements.

Overall, some 90.000 refugees have repatriated to Liberia since the start of UNHCR's voluntary return programme for Liberians in October 2004. More than half of the returning Liberian refugees went home from exile in Guinea, the number one West African host nation involved in the Liberian repatriation operation.

Throughout the recent crisis, UNHCR and its partners in Guinea have been able to maintain activities in the refugee camps though at a considerably reduced level due to prevailing security conditions. Over the past days, our field teams from Nzérékoré in eastern Guinea visited refugee camps at Lainé and Kouankan. According to their reports, the situation in the camps remains orderly and calm. Despite growing difficulties for the general population to obtain basic necessities, no tensions were reported between the refugees and local Guineans in communities surrounding the camps.

The site at Lainé is currently hosting some 11,000 Liberian refugees. Distribution of WFP food in Lainé was completed this weekend without incident. The same exercises in the Kouankan 1 camp, hosting some 7,000 Liberians, and Kouankan 2, hosting some 3,000 refugees from Côte d'Ivoire, are scheduled to take place this week.

UNHCR also continues to monitor the situation along Guinea's borders, but no major population movements have been reported in any of the neighbouring countries (Guinea Bissau, Senegal, Mali, Côte d'Ivoire, Sierra Leone, Liberia).

Guinea still hosts more than 31,000 refugees, including nearly 22,000 Liberians. In addition, there are some 5,000 refugees from Sierra Leone and 4,500 from Côte d'Ivoire. Nearly 70 per cent of the remaining refugee population is accommodated in camps along the Guinean border with Sierra Leone, Liberia and Côte d'Ivoire, while some 9,000 are scattered across the Guinean capital, Conakry.

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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

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.