Guinea: camps to west of Guéckédou empty
A joint UN security team, which returned yesterday from the volatile Parrot's Beak area of southern Guinea, found several refugee camps to the immediate west of Guéckédou empty. Camps closer to Nongoa, some 30 kilometres west of the war-ravaged town of Guéckédou, were one-third occupied. (Note: UNHCR was informed after the press briefing on Friday that attacks had been reported in the Nongoa area overnight and into Friday. It was not immediately clear if the new attacks would affect plans to resume operations in the area.) Most of the infrastructure in the abandoned camps was intact. The security assessment mission, consisting of staff from UNHCR, WFP and UNICEF, found the security conditions in the Parrot's Beak to be generally favourable for the return of UN staff in the area. Security conditions will, however, be monitored on a daily basis.
The team, which travelled from Guéckédou to Kolomba, at the furthest tip of the Parrot's Beak, met with refugees who said their biggest problem was the lack of food and supplies over the past several months. In Kolomba, which now has the largest single group of refugees in the area - more than 30,000 - refugees expressed their resentment of the months of isolation. Refugees told the team they were aware of food distributions which began on 26 February and were very anxious to receive shipments in their own camps. Because of limited logistical capacity and security considerations, the food distribution is gradually working its way down the Parrot's Beak toward Kolomba. Many refugees, in particular in Kolomba and Fangamadou, have sold most of their belongings. Refugees said they tried to hold on to their beds and UNHCR plastic sheeting as long as possible, but many were seen in markets in the camps visited. Refugees told the security team that over the last several months they have had to barter their belongings or work in surrounding fields to survive. In Kolomba, little food was available in the market. The joint security mission also saw a number of malnourished children of various ages.
Refugees expressed mixed feelings about relocation to camps further inside Guinea and asked about the possibility of a corridor back into Sierra Leone. Others said they preferred to remain in Parrot's Beak. Refugees in areas closer to Guéckédou said they were willing to transfer to camps further inland as soon as they received some aid.
UNHCR's implementing partner, Première Urgence, has continued to deliver food to nearly 135,000 refugees and displaced Guineans who have been trapped in the Parrot's Beak for several months. By yesterday (Thursday), 29,567 refugees and 5,704 displaced Guinean populations had received food, which is provided by the World Food Programme.