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Guinea: UNHCR welcomes ECOWAS deployment

Briefing notes

Guinea: UNHCR welcomes ECOWAS deployment

19 December 2000

UNHCR welcomes reported plans by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to deploy troops along Guinea's borders with Sierra Leone and Liberia. We hope that this measure will quickly lead to the stabilisation of the region, where UNHCR and other agencies have been forced to withdraw because of continuing insecurity that has displaced tens of thousands of refugees and local residents. It is crucial that humanitarian assistance be resumed now.

Guinean authorities have meanwhile moved some 25,000 Sierra Leone refugees, who earlier fled the Guéckédou border area, from a school in the town of Kissidougou to a nearby, overcrowded UNHCR camp. The camp, Massakoundou, is 8 kilometres to the west of the town. Conditions in the school were reportedly very bad. Authorities reported four deaths and three premature births caused by sickness and malnutrition.

Kissidougou, in southern Guinea, itself is now reportedly empty, with most locals fleeing following attacks last week by unidentified rebels.

Tens of thousands of Sierra Leone refugees and locals fleeing instability in Guinea's border areas had converged on Kissidougou. Two local UNHCR consultants travelling on the road between Kissidougou and the town of Faranah, 130 km to the north-west, saw groups of refugees walking toward Faranah in the apparent hope of reaching Guinea's capital Conakry, nearly 500 km away.

Groups of up to 200 refugees have been spotted on roads in the vicinity of Kissidougou. Those interviewed reported that they fled amid shelling and fighting in the Guéckédou and Kissidougou areas.

UNHCR and partner agencies have launched an emergency assistance programme to provide food, blankets, soap, buckets and kitchen pots in Massakoundou camp this week. An emergency team left Conakry on Monday for the region to assess how the fleeing refugees can be directed toward the Kankan area, north-east of Kissidougou, where UNHCR has identified possible relocation sites. UNHCR has asked Guinean authorities to provide information on the displaced local population as well. A UN security assessment mission to Kissidougou and Guéckédou reported no major security problems along the road from Conakry to Kissidougou. But it found some refugee camps between Kissidougou and Guéckédou empty.

Desperate refugees are paying truckers up to US$50 to transport them to Conakry from border areas. Many reportedly resort to selling all their meagre belongings in order to pay for the trip. Other trucks sponsored by a local NGO are transporting refugees from Forécariah, where attacks in September had panicked both the refugee and local populations. Between Friday and Sunday last week, UNHCR witnessed the arrival of eleven trucks in Conakry, loaded with refugees. These included nine trucks from Forécariah and two from Kissidougou.