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Guinea/Sierra Leone: hundreds flee, borders blocked

Briefing notes

Guinea/Sierra Leone: hundreds flee, borders blocked

9 May 2000

Hundreds of Sierra Leoneans have fled to Guinea by land and by sea over the past several days amid escalating tension between rebel and government forces.

265 Sierra Leoneans arrived in Pamelap, in the Forécariah area, and were immediately transferred to Kalako - a refugee site under preparation - where they received humanitarian assistance. 80 percent of the newly arrived are males. Some of them belong to the government army and came with light arms and ammunition which they surrendered to the Guinean authorities. They were subsequently given civilian clothes. New arrivals reported that they come from the Kambia District north of Freetown and that many other residents want to flee but they are prevented from doing so by the RUF rebels who control the border area.

The rebels are also reportedly blocking the border with Guinea at the opposite eastern edge of Sierra Leone which borders on Guinea's Guéckédou region. 20 Sierra Leoneans who came to Guéckédou on the 4th of May to shop at the local market were unable to return because the border had been blocked by the rebels.

On Monday morning, 6 barges coming from Freetown arrived in the port of Conakry. Around 400 people were on board but once disembarked only 19 of them turned out to be Sierra Leonean refugees. The others were Guinean nationals.

This morning two more boats were expected from Freetown with some 300 passengers. UNHCR will arrange for the transfer of all the refugees to the Forécariah camps which already host 25,000 Sierra Leonean refugees. 305,000 more are accommodated in the Guéckédou area.

At the present time, only 7 humanitarian staff remain in Sierra Leone, including 1 UNHCR official. They are all reported to be safe. The remaining humanitarian staff have been temporarily removed from Sierra Leone which is at security phase 4 under UN rules, which means one step away from total evacuation. No humanitarian staff are reported to be detained.