Guinea moves Liberia's new refugees into camps further inland
KISSIDOUGOU, Guinea, August 7 (UNHCR) - After weeks of negotiations, UNHCR and the Guinean government have finally agreed to move more than 1,000 Liberian refugees living near the unsafe border in southern Guinea further inland to camps in Albadaria.
On Monday, a convoy of 12 trucks left the Tekoulo transit centre near Guéckédou in southern Guinea, on a 180-km trip to two existing camps - Kountaya and Telilkoro - in Albadaria, central Guinea. This was the third convoy since relocation started last week under the auspices of UNHCR and the Guinean government, moving a total of 1,126 Liberian refugees to camps occupied mostly by Sierra Leonean refugees.
At Albadaria, the Liberians are being temporarily accommodated in the departure centre where repatriating Sierra Leoneans had routinely been registered.
The new arrivals, fleeing fighting in northern Liberia, had entered Guinea in early July, settling in the transit centre in Tekoulo. The town of Tekoulo is situated close to an unsafe border opposite Liberia's Lofa county, in an area where all humanitarian missions have been embargoed by the authorities for security reasons.
Until the Guinean government's go-ahead recently, UNHCR had faced difficulties deciding where to shelter these new arrivals from Liberia, as the two camps for Liberian refugees - Kouankan and Kola, near Nzérékoré - are presently above full capacity. The Guinean authorities are also wary of possible infiltration of their territory by Liberian rebels.
Since the beginning of this year, close to 24,000 new Liberian refugees have already been transferred to Kouankan and Kola or to a transit centre at Nonah, near the border with Liberia's Bong County. The number of Liberian new arrivals could easily double if the situation continues to deteriorate in Liberia and if the influx continues.
In all, more than 80,000 Liberian refugees have sought shelter in neighbouring countries since fighting started raging again at the end of 2001.
There are still about 2,500 newly-arrived Liberian refugees who remain in precarious conditions in Guinea's border areas, and arrivals continue on a small scale.
Last week, UNHCR was allowed to send a mission to the border near Tekoulo to meet with a group of about 100 people who had arrived recently. The refugees told of how Liberian men were prevented from reaching the border by fighters. "You have to walk in the bush and be lucky to be able to cross the river," said one refugee. After paying a fee to cross the river by canoe, many were again asked for 2,000 to 5,000 Guinean Francs (between $1 and $5) to be let in by Guinean soldiers. Many were also prevented from reaching the transit centre at Tekoulo, where some have family members.
To cope with the recent influx, the construction of a new site will resume in the town of Lainé, north-east of Nzérékoré, pending sufficient funds. In accordance with the agreement reached with the government, which is concerned about infiltration of potential rebels along its border, a maximum of 6,000 new refugees will be allowed at Lainé. The first beneficiaries will be the 5,276 refugees presently in Nonah transit centre, near the border.
Guinea is hosting 90,000 refugees in seven camps and one transit centre - 47,000 are Liberians and the rest are Sierra Leoneans. In addition, there are an estimated 60,000 Liberian refugees in various urban centres in Guinea, along the Liberian border.