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Guinea: UNHCR extremely worried about security situation

Briefing notes

Guinea: UNHCR extremely worried about security situation

26 January 2001

Food distribution resumed yesterday at Nyaedou refugee camp, home to some 30,000 people, after a two-day suspension due to security problems plaguing south-west Guinea's volatile border region. UNHCR remains extremely worried, however, about the overall security situation in the region. Gunmen were again seen inside Nyaedou and Massakoundou refugee camps on Thursday, ignoring appeals that the civilian nature of refugee camps be respected. During yesterday's food distribution in Nyaedou, men carrying grenades, light machine-guns and other weapons were seen in the camp. Other unarmed individuals who appeared associated with pro-Guinea militia groups were also there. The presence of these groups contributed to a general sense of unease and confusion during the food distribution, which should be completed today.

Many people in the camps, which have swelled in size with the continuing arrival of refugees fleeing fighting and rebel activity around 18 other border camps, have not received any food aid in months and demanded a larger ration. Guinean government soldiers who escorted relief personnel had to break up several disputes among refugees upset with the ration and the general precariousness of their situation. Armed men claiming to be Ulimo K were seen leaving Massakoundou with several bags of food aid intended for refugees.

Refugees in both Nyaedou and Massakoundou, which also houses some 30,000 people, continue to express a high degree of frustration at the limited options available to them. They tell UNHCR that instead of waiting for food aid, they would rather be assisted back to their home countries in order to escape the fighting and chaos that has engulfed south-west Guinea. To get home, however, they must reach the Guinean capital of Conakry, more than 600 km to the west. Those few refugees who have successfully reached Conakry, where they can catch a ship home, report having to pay up to US$50 for transport and bribes.

Also worrying is the continued exodus of Guinean citizens from the Guéckédou area. Trucks and taxis are regularly seen moving northwards loaded with furniture and other household items as residents flee the regional capital bordering on Guinea's frontier with Liberia and Sierra Leone.

There is also continued resentment among the local population against the refugees. In the town of Dabola, some 230 km north of Kissidougou, some residents have protested plans by the Conakry government and UNHCR to relocate refugees from border regions. Flyers protesting the resettlement plan have been tacked on walls in Dabola, reportedly containing threats against local officials and UNHCR if they continue with the plan. UNHCR and local government officials are mounting an information campaign to inform residents about the plans and to seek their support.

Guinea was hosting 330,000 Sierra Leonean refugees and some 130,000 Liberian refugees before the recent attacks.