Guinea sees end of one return programme, start of another
KISSIDOUGOU, Guinea, August 30 (UNHCR) - Weeks after the last Sierra Leonean refugees returned home on UNHCR-organised convoys, Guinea and the refugee agency are coping with the end of one repatriation movement and the start of another.
Between December 2000 and July this year, a total of 92,944 refugees went back to Sierra Leone from Guinea under UNHCR's voluntary repatriation programme. The programme officially ended on June 30, but groups of Sierra Leonean refugees approached the agency for return assistance after the deadline, with the last convoy leaving Guinea on July 22.
Thousands more have stayed behind, unable or unwilling to return to their homeland after the end of the decade-long civil war. There are now 1,732 Sierra Leonean refugees remaining in camps in Guinea's Albadariah region. The Guinean government has agreed to allow them to integrate locally, and is working with UNHCR and its implementing partners to assist them.
"Those who have opted to remain in Guinea will benefit from UNHCR assistance in agriculture, income generation activities and vocational training projects. They are expected to quickly become self reliant and start their new life among the local population," said Roseline Idowu, UNHCR's Deputy Representative in Guinea.
"The refugees will be able to request permanent residence or citizenship from the government," Guinea's Minister of Territorial Administration told High Commissioner Ruud Lubbers during the latter's visit in April.
To better assist the remaining Sierra Leonean refugees, UNHCR plans to regroup them into one camp in the Albadariah region, called Boreah camp. UNHCR and its government counterpart, Bureau de Coordination des Réfugiés, are restoring shelters in the camp, but some refugees are reluctant to move, saying they've started farming in their current camps. UNHCR has launched a sensitisation campaign to convince them of the need to transfer to Boreah camp.
Meanwhile, further south, another group of refugees are preparing to go home from Guinea as 14 years of civil war come to an end in Liberia. Some of the 73,026 Liberian refugees living in Guinea's Forest Region camps in Kissidougou and Nzérékoré, as well as urban refugees, are expected to return home on UNHCR convoys starting in October.
The UN refugee agency is currently conducting information campaigns in the camps to provide the Liberian refugees with objective information on their home areas, so that they can make informed choices on whether or not to repatriate. A survey is also underway to determine how many would actually like to return to Liberia.