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.