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Guinea: HC concentrates on finding a humanitarian solution

Briefing notes

Guinea: HC concentrates on finding a humanitarian solution

13 February 2001

The High Commissioner on Tuesday concluded a two-day visit to Guinea, where he concentrated on finding a humanitarian solution for tens of thousands of refugees in need of help in the country's south-west. Before leaving Tuesday morning, the High Commissioner said he was seeking support of countries in the region to ensure safe passage for humanitarians and the refugees. Mr. Lubbers emphasised that all leaders in the region have a shared interest and responsibility for ensuring the safety and security of people living in the volatile tri-state area where Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia meet. He said he will be urging officials in all three countries during meetings this week to work for the immediate goal of humanitarian passage into the border region of south-west Guinea. Lubbers said earlier references to "carrot and stick," including a possible recommendation of sanctions against those who continued to block access to the tens of thousands of those trapped in the region, were a matter for the international community. As a humanitarian organisation UNHCR's preferred solution is agreement by all parties and governments in the region for immediate access to the affected population and safe passage for them. In reference to a request by ECOWAS in New York for a two-month moratorium on possible Security Council sanctions against Liberia, Lubbers said he did not oppose the idea, as long as tangible improvement occurs during the two months on the humanitarian front.

During a meeting with Guinea's president Lansana Conté on Monday, Mr. Lubbers won Guinea's pledge to co-operate with UNHCR on ensuring a passage to safer areas for thousands of refugees stranded in Guinea's volatile south-west.

UNHCR began a relocation movement on Tuesday last week from the Katkama and Nyaedou camps, in Guinea's troubled border regions. So far around 4,000 refugees have been relocated to a newly established site in Kountaya, in the Albadaria Prefecture. On Monday, UNHCR was able to move 314 most vulnerable refugees from the ruins of the former Katkama camp where thousands of refugees went after fleeing Nyaedou . Despite logistical setbacks, the operation went smoothly.

The relocation of some 60,000 refugees in the camps of south-western Guinea has become a priority for UNHCR since last September, when rebel attacks in the region sent hundreds of thousands refugees and displaced local population fleeing. About 140,000 refugees are still believed to be stranded in the Languette area, while tens of thousands more made their way to other refugee camps further north or even to the capital Conakry. So far more than 30,000 Sierra Leonean refugees have returned to Sierra Leone. 10,000 have gone back on UNHCR/IOM-chartered boats while more than 20,000 have returned on their own.